Thursday, March 6, 1997
Evacuees anxious
to return home

They count blessings,
days until waters recede

BY CINDY SCHROEDER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SILVER GROVE - Fifty-two years after flooding forced Irene Wilson from her Silver Grove home, she once again fled rising waters in a boat, taking only a suitcase and her cocker spaniel.

Neighbor Ron Burchfield - Silver Grove's fire chief - carried Mrs. Wilson the last few feet to safety, trudging through the muddy moat that now surrounds most of the low-lying Campbell County river town.

With no phone service and water starting to rise in her basement, Mrs. Wilson, 62, decided it was finally time to leave her Fourth Street home.

''We've got it bad, but nothing like the people in Falmouth,'' the slightly built, silver-haired woman said, as her dog, Mandy, frolicked on the first grass she'd seen in days. ''They're the ones I feel sorry for.''

Mrs. Wilson was among 200 people forced to flee Silver Grove on Wednesday when rising waters played havoc with phone service and prompted authorities to cut electrical power to more than a dozen homes and an apartment building at 500 River Road.

Campbell County authorities were assisted in their task by 14 members of the Kentucky National Guard, who arrived in Silver Grove on Wednesday to help local police and firefighters direct traffic and provide security in an area where most of the homes are under water or partially submerged.

''This has gone on a little longer than people expected, and now they're starting to get a little anxious,'' said Randy Steinhauer, who helped direct evacuation efforts in his role as Silver Grove's assistant fire chief. ''The (300 or so residents) who're left in town are reconsidering their decision to tough it out.''

For Mrs. Wilson, the watery escape was nothing new.

''In 1945, when I was 9 years old, I stepped off our front porch into a boat,'' she recalled. ''We went up Fourth Street to Oak to the railroad tracks, where we caught a train out of town. ''There was maybe a foot of water in our house back then.''

So far, the Flood of '97 has forced about 2,800 Northern Kentucky residents to flee their homes. A few are staying at the five shelters established in Kenton and Campbell counties, but most have found lodging with family and friends, authorities said.

No missing persons have been reported.

''We've pretty much determined that everybody's out or accounted for,'' said Ray Muench, director of Campbell County Disaster and Emergency Services.

While there have been reports of looting and vandalism in some southern Campbell County communities, there have been no arrests, and no one has been taken into custody, authorities said.

In Newport, police warned sightseers Wednesday to stay away from the floodwall, or risk arrest, as people attempted to climb the slippery slope and capture the historic scene with video and still cameras.

Upriver in California, Ky., a town that was virtually deserted after the weekend flooding, about 40 to 50 people are camping out in tents pitched along the railroad tracks, or staying in sleeping bags in the back of their trucks, Mr. Muench said.

''The furniture from homes is floating around out there, and they're going out in boats and picking it up,'' he said.

A few of California's 160 residents made their way on Wednesday to the town's trailer-based post office, now in the parking lot of a Mentor church, after its second move in as many days.

In Bromley, a tearful Myriah Hamilton returned home Wednesday - or as close as she could - for the first time since her family abandoned their Pike Street home, after water reached the first floor.

''It's going to be so long until we can get back in our house,'' the 17-year-old said. ''I think the (toughest) thing for me is I can't even go home.''

Her cat, Miss Kitty, is in the attic of the house. In Monday's commotion of moving out, the feline was so excited that the family couldn't catch her.

The left food and water, Myriah said, standing at the Ohio River's new water's edge.

''Not that she would need any water.''

Gregory A. Hall contributed to this story.

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