Friday, March 7, 1997
Picturesque river town
was on a roll
and then - snake eyes

BY BETH MENGE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

AURORA - 1997 looked like a promising year.

This Ohio river city of 3,825 - with its historic homes and a bustling downtown business district - was getting ready to cash in on surrounding riverboat casinos.

The first check - for $86,895 - had just arrived, part of a plan crafted by Rising Sun to share some of its gaming revenue with surrounding communities. Lawrenceburg also plans to share the wealth.

Council has not decided yet how to spend the money.

Then, in less than 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday, the mighty Ohio River climbed 20 feet, spilling over into this town, unprotected by flood walls.

Mayor Leon Kelly, who has lived here since 1945, had never seen the river rise so quickly.

Now residents and businesses are grappling with what Mayor Kelly said is the community's ninth-highest flood. It has affected half the businesses downtown and an as-yet unknown number of residents.

The sun was out Wednesday, and people walked through the town with cameras to watch for signs that the river was receding.

Somewhat surprisingly, people remained upbeat.

''What else can we do?'' said Darwyn Nelson, 46, owner of Nelson's TV Service, which was underwater. ''The mood might change once the water goes down and we see what's left.''

Mr. Nelson moved almost everything out of his store before the flood hit. But he lost two high-efficiency furnaces, one just delivered by Schuck's, another Aurora business under several feet of water. Mr. Nelson hadn't even received the bill.

Across Aurora, the roar of water pumps resounded, as people tried to keep water out of their basements. Two pumps operated around the clock to clear the main floor of World Class Hobby's on the corner of Second and Mechanic streets. The water remained 18 inches below the main floor on Thursday.

While watching news reports on flood fatalities, store manager Dale Willoughby, 14 during the flood of 1964, felt fortunate.

''I could be Schuck's down there or one of the other guys,'' he said. ''We're lucky. Even if I lost everything in here, I'd be lucky.''

Clerk-Treasurer Richard Ullrich said he's never heard anybody suggest the city spend its gaming revenue on a flood wall. ''One of our community's assets is our riverfront,'' he said. ''If it happens every 30 years, it happens every 30 years. We enjoy our riverfront more than looking at a levee.''

FLOOD STORIES
FLOOD PHOTOS