Friday, March 7, 1997
A town in need
of resurrection

Walk shows the horror and pain

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Reporter Andrea Tortora and photographer Patrick Reddy toured Falmouth's downtown business district Thursday. They were the first journalists allowed to inspect the damage on foot.

FALMOUTH, Ky.- Had members of the Falmouth United Methodist Church been able to attend Sunday, they would have heard the Rev. David Miller's sermon, ''Between Death and Resurrection.''

His words might have offered some preparation for what residents in this flood-ravaged city face as they return.

Those who were allowed past Kentucky National Guard checkpoints Thursday said they couldn't believe what they saw - a city mired in death and awaiting resurrection.

''It's really destroyed,'' Wayne Biddle, a Pendleton County Health Center environmentalist, said as he inspected businesses on Shelby Street.

''It'll never be the same. The people can pull together and survive it, but I don't think Falmouth can ever recover.''

A large chunk of downtown is inside out and upside down.

A bag of oranges hangs in a tree close to Joe Hoff's home at 1004 W. Shelby. Marked in blue spray paint on the home's white exterior is a message to inspect the home again.

Mr. Hoff, 70, returned from Florida on Sunday and doesn't know what to do. But he was glad to learn his home was still standing.

To state forensic anthropologist Emily Craig, who has seen plenty of disasters, the town looks as if it has been hit by a flood and a tornado. Just past the corner of Pike and West Shelby, a home blocks the road as if plunked down by a twister.

Floods can do that, said American Red Cross team leader Elwood Black. Clad entirely in red, Mr. Black and his wife, Carol, walked from building to building Thursday, assessing damage.

''The swiftness of a current can push things just like a tornado,'' Mr. Black said. ''This is bad. It looks like California after the floods there'' in 1992.

A pine tree lies a few feet before the couple on Pike. The side facing west is perfectly shaped. The branches on the east side are so flattened it looks as if a Herculean fan was blowing.

Farther down West Shelby, Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore lie face up in someone's front yard, imprisoned in the mud. Blue is the only color other than brown visible on the stuffed animals.

The damage is stunning at the corner of Woodson Road and Pendleton Street. Concrete blocks lie in squares; they're the foundations for houses that cannot be found. At one house, a brand-new concrete driveway leads to nothing. Same for the carpeted stoop next door.

Closer to the heart of downtown, trains are again running on newly repaired railroad tracks, kicking up fresh, clean gravel as they chug by.

Past the railroad crossing, the scene changes. More buildings here are intact, partly because many are brick structures built flush together, offering support to each other like the residents of this town. Here, the path of the water is seen in the windows - almost all of them are gone.

But there is still life here.

The sweet smell of flowers and potpourri hides the rank scent of river mud inside the Fancy Floral Fashions & Gifts at 126 W. Shelby. Thursday was the first time George and Joyce Campbell had seen their business in five days.

Mrs. Campbell is shaky, holding back tears as National Guard Sgt. Mark Isaacs escorts them through a window frame to retrieve the cash register. The couple has operated Fancy Floral for 16 years.

Mrs. Campbell comes out first, a few $20 bills and personal checks clutched in her hand. Sgt. Isaacs follows with the cash register, slamming it hard on the back of his Humvee.

Some tugs and pulls open the drawer - full of money, coins and bills.

''I just don't know what we're going to do,'' Mrs. Campbell said. ''It's devastating to see this. I just can't see how we're going to recover.''

As the couple get in the Humvee with Sgt. Isaacs, a blue Air Force bus arrives, packed with Falmouth residents getting their first glimpse of what the flood left behind.

Eyes are wide as people look through the bus windows, viewing their town's nightmare.

Patrick Bass and his wife, Laurie, had begun remodeling their Pendleton Street house for the baby they're expecting later this year. Now he doubts there is anything left to fix up.

''I don't see how you could salvage it,'' said Mr. Bass, 29, who glimpsed his home's sagging roof and destroyed garage from a bus. ''From what I saw, they'll bulldoze it over.''

Bulldozers have cleared the roads of most of the mud, pushing it to the side like snow. It sits there now, two long rows of thick, dark brown slop forming a border down the street.

Mayor Max Goldberg estimated that 75 percent of Falmouth's businesses are a total loss. Only three of the 30 restaurants and food establishments in the city are salvageable, said Mr. Biddle, the health department environmentalist.

The Dairy Queen's walk-in freezer sits in a street a few blocks from where it belongs. McDonald's and Subway look pretty much OK, except that they are windowless and full of mud.

The long, low building of Angilo's Pizza is twisted into an L-shape. Visible inside the broken-out double doors of the IGA are overturned shelves, muddy cabbages and Cheerios stuck to the windows. Without refrigeration, the rotting groceries are beginning to smell.

Across the blue bridge of Ky. 22 headed toward Brooksville, a large, black wooden barn squats, having landed with its doors perfectly over the road. Transportation workers hated to move the structure. The barn looked to them like a picturesque covered bridge, especially as cars drove through it.

Public buildings - the county courthouse and the city building - seem to have fared well structurally. The front walkways of both are still padded by a carpet of mud, and water lines can be seen about 4 feet up the brick walls.

Officials said they hope Pendleton County's history - most of it on paper and stored on first floors - can be salvaged. County Sheriff Bud O'Hara is worried about some of the records kept in his office, but he thinks he has found a company that can dry them carefully.

Some of the history has already been preserved. The Falmouth Outlook, the city's weekly newspaper, published out of Cynthiana on Wednesday - keeping its tradition of 90 years of uninterrupted issues.

The fire station seems to be OK, as does a car wash, one of the cleanest buildings in town, its white cinder-block walls so bright against the brown-ness, the color is blinding.

As the fire station's sirens blare, firefighters use hoses to clean the firehouse.

A few blocks over, the rest of the fire department helps clear out the saturated furniture and belongings of Melvin Hart, the department's former fire chief.

The front yard at 205 Fourth St. is now filled with piles of what looks like old, musty decayed furniture. Mr. Hart's son Keevil, who lives across the street, said it was hard to imagine his family was using the items just days before.

''The structure is OK, so the house can be lived in,'' Keevil Hart said. ''It's just that we're so tired, but we'll be OK.''

As Keevil works to clear out his father's home, other family members work on his home.

Thursday marked the third time that Gladys Wallace, 72, witnessed the devastation a natural disaster could wreak on her Falmouth home. For her, the thought of working toward another resurrection was disheartening.

Mrs. Wallace, a survivor of the 1964 flood and 1968 tornado here, drove past her Barkley Street residence for the first time since she fled the rising water Saturday night. Shattered windows and a side yard blanketed with mud greeted her outside the gray, one-story house.

''Sickening,'' she said, returning to Pendleton County High School with a busload of neighbors sheltered there. ''We've seen homes destroyed, up on top of each other, trucks turned over in the street.

''I just don't want to move back anymore,'' she said. ''I've had so much tragedy there.''

Jane Prendergast and Kathleen Hillenmeyer contributed to this story.