Saturday, March 8, 1997
Prized possessions in ruins
Residents try to salvage undamaged goods

The Cincinnati Enquirer

BUTLER, Ky. - Unbreakable as the religious statues adorning her home, Verna Payne sifted through what's left of her belongings Friday, tossing once-treasured mementos now drenched in muddy water.

''I haven't cried yet,'' said Mrs. Payne, 66, who pitched even a handmade teddy bear, a gift from her late husband. ''But I'm sure I will. I think it's just 'cause I can't believe it.''

The retired widow spent her first day back inside her Butler home disposing of appliances and furnishings, ruined last weekend as the Licking River, which has receded from her yard, rushed across Mill Street.

For many from this Pendleton County town, Friday marked the second day they were allowed back inside their homes - half of which the flood waters enveloped. As in Falmouth, the destruction seemed random, leaving some homes intact while lifting others off their foundations. Yet resilience abounds here, even among those whose homes were reduced to rubble.

''You can sit in a corner all day and cry for yourself,'' said Joyce Jones, 49, walking along the Licking's banks behind her mobile home, now wrapped around a tree. ''But I wasn't singled out. Other people lost their homes.''

The nurse, who lost another home to fire during the early 1980s, tiptoed through dishes wedged in the mud. Her son-in-law handed her a prized Polaroid photo retrieved from the water's edge.

''I guess this is where you pick up and start all over again,'' she said. ''It's just been hell. But we're surviving.''

Residents worked feverishly from 7 a.m. to dusk, the window of access before a temporary curfew kicks in.

To discourage looting, ''we have restricted folks coming in,'' said Gary Seibel of the Butler Volunteer Fire Department. Beyond 7 p.m., ''no one's in, no one's out and no one's on the streets.''

While town officials began tallying residents' and businesses' losses, Mr. Seibel could not measure the monetary setbacks his neighbors have suffered. Still, they remained optimistic, their pain masked either by shock or memories of weathering the 1964 flood.

''They're strong people,'' said Myrtle Procter, a Lexington social worker who came Friday to Pendleton County High School to counsel traumatized flood victims.

''I think it's like death: You come together and you do what you need to get through it.''

Dumping wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of grimy drywall and debris outside his lifelong home, Bill Singleton expressed his determination to restore his home on the Licking's banks.

''Maybe if it was torn down and washed away, I'd give up. But I'm not going to,'' said Mr. Singleton, a 32-year-old mechanic who recently remodeled the house he bought from his father.

''It was one of the prettiest places in Butler, and I intend to make it right back like that,'' he said, shoveling sludge from the two-story home alone.

''It might take a year; it might take 10 years. But I've got the heart to do it.''