Wednesday, March 5, 1997
Anxiety level rises
along with river

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pam Shoemaker of Manchester knows she should be grateful that her children are healthy and her family is safe. But facing an indefinite stay in a Manchester Red Cross shelter and no flood insurance when she goes home, Mrs. Shoemaker could only summon up tears and worries Tuesday.

''I'm just kind of worried about what I don't know. I don't know what's going to happen to the house,'' Mrs. Shoemaker said as her eyes welled up. ''I'd just like to get that water down, get that place cleaned and get my kids home where they belong.''

Up and down the Ohio River and many of its tributaries Tuesday, flood refugees spent another day waiting and watching the rivers. In Kentucky and Ohio, an estimated 5,000 families were displaced, some to the homes of friends and family, others to shelters set up by strangers.

The refugees quickly learned the rhythms particular to life in a historic flood. In most natural disasters - earthquakes, fires, tornadoes - the terror is over quickly, giving way to determined cleanup and the goal of restoring order.

But in the flood now engulfing the Tristate, the anxiety stretches for days, a low-grade horror that rises with the water. Hope gives way to the certainty that possessions and dreams are now submerged in water; the thrill of the unexpected becomes endless tedium in an unfamiliar home.

''When you go away for a vacation, you expect your home's going to be there when you come back,'' said Jerry Dickens, a Red Cross official working in Brown County. ''When you leave in a disaster situation, you don't know what's going to happen. It's very unsettling.''

Laura and Betty Lodge sat in Falmouth's Southside Church of Christ on Tuesday afternoon, putting together a jigsaw puzzle of climbing roses. Although authorities were allowing Falmouth residents to go home and pick up clothing - provided they got tetanus shots - the mother and daughter stayed put in the shelter where they've been since Sunday.

''Why should we go back when we have no electricity, no water and no gas?'' said Betty Lodge, 48. ''We're going to stay here because at least we have food and water.''

As the waters of the Licking River receded, victims along the Ohio River were still bracing for the worst. More than 130 people sought shelter at New Richmond High School, the sole emergency residence in Clermont County, and even some diehards chose to head for higher ground.

The water was flowing over the top of Betty Shelton's backyard fence on West Center Street when she finally decided it was time to get out. A bag of meat from her freezer came with her in the boat.

''We've got a three-story house, so we were way up and high and dry, but we were surrounded,'' she said. ''I turned the electricity off, and it was starting to get cold. ... I've lived 30 years in New Richmond, and this is the first time we've had to come out by boat.''

Some of the victims were encouraged by Tuesday's clearer skies and an occasional glimpse of sun. But with more rain forecast and the river yet to crest, others reported sleeplessness, depression and boredom.

''I couldn't lie down to sleep,'' Jackie Frazier, the self-appointed historian of California, Ohio, said as her eyes welled with tears. ''All I could see was water. Water everywhere. People standing in water, houses floating in water.''

Mrs. Frazier, 67, spent Monday night in a mobile home parked on Kellogg Avenue and Tuesday in a temporary shelter at the California United Methodist Church on Kellogg Avenue. Her century-old home on Eldorado Avenue was flooded on the first floor.

She and her husband had to move her old history books, clothes and furniture to the second floor. Now they are praying that the home holds steady, in a neighborhood where police were patrolling for looters.

Vince McMullen had 3 feet of water in his home at 5851 Bryson St. in California.

''It's like one big piece of bonding,'' Mr. McMullen, 18, said of the people who pulled together to help each other survive the flooding.

He is living in his grandmother's house several blocks away but joined a group at the Ebersole Community Center in California on Tuesday night as the center was designated a Red Cross disaster shelter.

Carol Theler, a Red Cross volunteer for 18 years, gave the group a quick course in shelter management. Most of the people taking the course were teachers and staff from Mount Washington Elementary School and community volunteers.

Some Tristate victims watched the water creep toward their homes; some fretted about the future of their businesses. Beverley Nusekabel did both.

Since Sunday, she has watched her historic Aurora home, whose first floor she is converting to a gourmet coffee shop, as the Ohio River edged closer and closer. Despite the worries, she would never leave her 19th-century home.

''I'm starting to get an edge on me,'' she said. But it could be worse, she conceded: ''I'm glad we don't live in Falmouth. We don't have it as bad as other people do. It's just a mess and an inconvenience.''

And at another Tristate workplace, cold, muddy water sloshed against the tires of the huge trucks backing into Caruso Produce's waterlogged riverfront warehouse. Andy Pschesang, the operations manager, took a rare break.

Since about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Mr. Pschesang's thigh-high waders had allowed him to walk from just below Third and Plum streets across flooded Pete Rose Way to the warehouse. But just before lunch time, the water got waist deep - and it was cold.

So Mr. Pschesang started using a canoe to get across, sometimes with a friend who could then pilot the canoe back to dry asphalt while the wet operations manager got behind the wheel of a truck to rescue crates of apples and melons.

''It's going to be a long day for everybody,'' Mr. Pschesang, of Milford, said with a tired smile. ''We have to ship tonight. People still have to eat.''

Allen Howard, Kym Liebler, Cameron McWhirter, Lucy May, Sheila McLaughlin, Beth Menge, Andrea Tortora, Cindy Schroeder and Chris Wolff contributed to this report.