Wednesday, March 5, 1997
River surge
will reach crest today

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Here's how you can
help children

With the ever-widening Ohio River set to crest at its highest level in more than three decades early this evening, the Tristate continued a mad scramble today to stave off the cold, murky floodwaters.

Overnight, some Newtown residents had to be evacuated in the darkness when the Little Miami flowed over its banks. By morning, houses and businesses in the the East End that had been dry the day before were flooded.

Vice President Al Gore arrived in Cincinnati about 1 p.m. to survey the damage. For one vantage point, he stopped at Fort Washington Way just west of Cinergy Field, where the stadium parking lots were submerged under 8-10 feet of water.

As a light rain began about noon, the river had already topped its expected crest, reaching 64.5 feet -- 12.5 feet above flood stage. But it was not expected to rise much higher, if at all, before cresting tonight.

A panorama of the Ohio River valley Tuesday- from Aurora, Ind., upstream to Portsmouth, Ohio - showed the desperation and frustration of workers attempting to stop the slowly rising water and residents fleeing their homes and belongings.

In Adams County, Ohio, National Guard troops were called to help evacuate roughly 190 people from their flooded homes. In Aurora, one-fourth of the downtown was under water and an evacuation of businesses was under way. In Cincinnati, city workers hurried to erect a floodwall only a few yards from Pete Rose Way, which has been transformed by the flood into a canal.

The flooding of the Ohio River and its many tributaries is responsible for at least 16 deaths (seven in the Tristate), widespread evacuations, scores of road washouts and extensive damage.

Officials in Ohio and Kentucky on Tuesday put the flood-related damage to homes and businesses at more than $330 million, with the figure likely to grow. About 5,000 families in Ohio and Kentucky have been forced from their homes.

On a helicopter tour Tuesday of flood-ravaged communities in Ohio, Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister repeatedly described the watery scene below as ''unbelievable.''

''I grew up on the river. I know what these people are going through. It's important to let them know that we are listening and that we are here to help,'' said Mrs. Hollister, former mayor of Marietta.

Her tour ended in New Richmond, where floodwaters had sealed off much of the town by Tuesday afternoon, making parts of it accessible only by boat.

President Clinton issued a disaster declaration covering 14 Ohio counties. He also approved federal disaster aid for nine Kentucky counties, including Pendleton, and dispatched Vice President Al Gore to tour several river communities in Ohio and Northern Kentucky today along with James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA may widen the areas of eligibility to include Hamilton and Clermont counties in Ohio. Such a declaration should bring swift federal aid - including temporary housing and grants and low-interest loans - to those counties.

''There will be difficult times ahead for those who have to rebuild, but we will stand by you,'' Mr. Clinton said.

In Indiana today, Gov. Frank O'Bannon was scheduled to survey flood damage in Lawrenceburg, Vevay, Tell City and Grandview.

National Guard out

The Kentucky National Guard ordered 1,100 guardsmen into 25 of that state's hardest-hit counties. Guardsmen began filling sandbags Tuesday along the downtown waterfront in Louisville, where the river was expected to reach 13 feet above flood stage as early as tonight.

As the river continued to raise, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed all commercial traffic between Cincinnati and Louisville because of high water, cutting a vital transportation pipeline for the region's coal, steel and agricultural products.

''That's all stopped,'' corps spokesman Ken Crawford said. ''When the water gets back down, we'll have some cleanup.''

In Ohio, more than 650 guardsmen have been sent to areas besieged by the flood. Guardsmen worked non-stop Tuesday transporting drinking water, using bulldozers for cleanup and repairing roads and bridges. Weather and river forecasters turned their attention Tuesday to what could happen in the Tristate after more rain sweeps through the region.

As much as a half-inch of rain was expected in the Cincinnati area today. Forecasters said Brown, Highland, Adams, Scioto, Pike, Ross and Hocking counties might get as much as 1 inch, raising the possibility of another round of flash floods. It also is likely to slow the drop of the Ohio River, say forecasters.

''I think we have a threat of additional flooding, not so much in the Ohio River but in smaller rivers nearby,'' said Mark Patchen of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

Forecasters now think the Ohio River may not drop below the flood stage of 52 feet until early next week, if there is no additional heavy precipitation before then.

Falmouth residents return

Floodwaters began to recede Tuesday in one of the region's hardest-hit communities, Falmouth, Ky. The Licking River there fell by about 4 feet, allowing some residents to return to their homes.

National Guard troops sealed off the town and aided local police in inspecting homes before letting residents return. Police found one body, of an unidentified elderly woman, in her Falmouth home.

With expectations of finding more dead as the water subsides, authorities established a temporary morgue at Southside Elementary School in Falmouth.

The death toll in Kentucky could be as high as 13. That number includes two people thought to have drowned in Owen County but whose bodies have not yet been recovered. Another five people have died in Ohio.

More than 1,000 people have been forced from their homes in Bromley, Ludlow, Covington's Licking-Riverside historic district, Latonia and in central Kenton County around Ryland Heights and Visalia.

Additional roads were closed Tuesday in and around Cincinnati. By midafternoon, water backed up into sewers along Columbia Parkway, forcing police to close the road just east of the the intersection of Columbia and Delta Avenue.

The roadblocks - coupled with closings on Kellogg and Eastern avenues - snarled traffic as trucks and cars weaved their way through the winding streets of Columbia Tusculum.

Major arteries into the west side of downtown also were clogged because of flooding on part of River Road.

In the East End, the flood moved into homes along the south side of Eastern Avenue. At the condominiums of Riverfront East, where homes sell for $350,000, moving trucks could be seen loaded with furniture to move to higher ground. Floodwaters were up to the complex's garages.

More floodwalls

As those floodwaters moved up to Cincinnati's downtown, workers rushed to erect additional floodwalls. City officials expect that eight of the city's 14 floodwall gates will be in place by this morning.

City Manager John Shirey said the city is taking precautions for a 66-foot river level.

''I'm still concerned that the forecast of 64 feet might be a little shy. We're trying to think about 66 feet in our planning mode,'' Mr. Shirey said.

Cincinnati firefighters had rescued 50 to 70 people from floodwaters by Tuesday morning, including eight people from the Sands Motel on Kellogg.

Reporters Cameron McWhirter, Kim Liebler, Lisa Donovan, Beth Menge, Michael Hawthorne, Sandy Theis, Laura Goldberg, Terry Flynn, Jane Prendergast, Andrea Tortora, Cindy Schroeder, John Hopkins, Adam Weintraub and Bernie Mixon contributed to this article.