Thursday, June 19, 2003

Taft moves to help Butler

Area could qualify for disaster relief

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Butler County, paving the way for the county to try to qualify for federal and state financial relief for eligible victims of last weekend's flood that damaged more than 300 homes.

William Turner, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, was happy and relieved when he learned of Taft's action.

"That is what we've been waiting for," he said.

Taft asked the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to evaluate the damage to homes and businesses in Butler County to determine whether the county qualifies as a disaster area.

If the county is declared a disaster area, it would enable uninsured homeowners to apply for low-interest loans from the SBA. Those who don't qualify for those loans could apply for Ohio's individual assistance grants.

The vast majority of homes affected by flooding in Butler sustained minor damage, such as flooded basements, Turner said.

Communities hit by the flood include St. Clair Township, New Miami, Fairfield, Ross Township, Collinsville, Sumerville, Darrtown and College Corner.

The SBA must determine that Butler County has at least 25 homes or businesses that suffered a minimum loss in market value of 40 percent to get the disaster area designation.

Turner said he's optimistic the county will meet that criterion.

"We've identified 30 houses with major damage for the SBA to look at," he said.

Meanwhile, Butler County officials are considering condemning some of the houses in a mile-long section of Warwick Road just east of Eaton Road.

This was the hardest-hit area in last weekend's flooding.

Jim Fox, Butler County zoning and draining inspector, and a building inspector examined Warwick Road homes Wednesday and are compiling a report.

Fox said the county won't decide whether to condemn any homes until next week.

"Some of those homes along the creek are destroyed," Turner said. "I really wonder if some of them can ever be re-inhabited."

Clean-up activity continued on Warwick Road Wednesday.

The bucolic beauty of the normally tame and tranquil Four Mile Creek and its surrounding woods induced many people over the years to live on Warwick Road.

"This place is paradise," said Amanda Spicer, who moved to a house close to the creek 15 years ago. But Four Mile Creek turned fierce last weekend and transformed the country paradise into a muddy mess.

Spicer, 36, sat outside her house while a group of Butler County Jail inmates, supervised by a deputy, carried out buckets of flood water and ruined chairs, tables and other items from inside her house.

The top of the creek bank and a 4-foot-high stone wall are all that separate her house from Four Mile Creek. Last weekend, she had 4 feet of water in her house.

On Wednesday, her dining room chairs, tables, a stove and other pieces of furniture - all mud-stained and water-logged - were spread out in her yard, drying in the sun. A small wooden pool deck stood in her yard, but the above-ground pool had been washed away.

Spicer, who was given lodging in a motel by the American Red Cross, said that some of her belongings might be salvageable. But most of them already had been thrown into the trash.

"Everything's gone - couches, beds, clothing, everything," she said.

Wrecked furniture and debris were piled high in some front yards, waiting to be hauled away. Pools of floodwater still stood on parts of mud-caked driveways.

Jo Goins, who has lived on Warwick Road for 28 years, said the floodwater never reached her house, which sits far back from the road on a hill. She said her parents lived in this area in the late 1950s and witnessed a bad flood in 1959.

In the dry summer months, Four Mile Creek sometimes is reduced to a trickle.

But Wednesday, the creek flowed fast and high, with large tree branches and other debris floating in its brown water.

"Nobody could believe little Four Mile Creek could do this," Goins said. "But my husband and I built our house far back and up on a hill because we knew what this little creek was capable of."

Despite the trauma of last weekend's flood, Spicer wants to move back into her house.

"It doesn't look like paradise now, but it will," she said. "It's home."


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