Saturday, March 8, 1997
People eager to get back
Returnees need permission and home inspection

The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW RICHMOND - With water on many streets still waist-deep, residents of this Ohio River village began the trek back to their homes and the cleanup that faces them.

A town meeting, meant to appease frustrated residents, was boisterous but short as people scrambled to line up outside the auditorium at New Richmond High School to receive passes into town.

Even with permission to get through police checkpoints, many, without boats, were left on the swelled banks of the Ohio at U.S. 52 with nothing more to do than look.

''People just want to see what's going on with their property. They want to make sure the place hasn't floated away,'' said Dean Doerman, a Clermont County Sheriff's sergeant helping keep order at U.S. 52 and Walnut Street.

The flooding, which peaked Thursday, chased 1,500 to 1,600 people from 24 blocks in the core area on both sides of U.S. 52 and damaged 650 homes and businesses.

Linda and Mike Craig were the first residents back into the village. They were stopped by rescue workers and ferried out in a fire department boat after Mrs. Craig was seen wading up to her thighs.

Their Market Street home, built in the 1820s, is filled with antique furniture. Much of it had been moved to the second story or propped up off the floor before the flood waters hit.

The first story took in less than a foot of water. Friday, the cherry stained floorboards were warped and slick with brown muck.

''They used to be cherry,'' Mrs. Craig said, hosing some of the brown goo out the side door. ''We restored them because we wanted it back to the old. We got it back, as old as we could get it - including the mud floors.''

The Rev. Kevin Murphy and three church members planned to work until dark to get Cranston Memorial Presbyterian Church back into some semblance of shape. He wants to be able to open the church as a fellowship hall to help other flood victims and have the sanctuary ready for Sunday services next week.

The 156-year-old building at Union and Washington streets, which this time took in about 2 1/2 feet of river water, has weathered numerous floods. This was the first for the Rev. Mr. Murphy.

As the water inside began to recede, he stirred through six inches on the floor with a push broom while Tom Boyle, Jim Gibson and Paul Zimmerman hosed down the walls and linoleum floors in the sanctuary.

''We've got a mess. We've got water. Does that about sum it up?'' the Rev. Mr. Murphy remarked with a laugh.

Residents will not be able to stay in their homes until the waters have fully receded. The buildings must first be inspected and utilities turned back on, said Ray Sebastian, Clermont County building inspector.

Some residents complained that permission to return came too late. Old-timers, who had lived through earlier floods in the village, said it was imperative to stir up the mud inside the structures so it goes out with the river water. Otherwise it dries into an adobe-like substance and is impossible to remove, they said.

However, Acting Police Chief Landen Williams said residents were kept out until Friday because authorities feared high water would prevent firefighting and other emergency response in the water-logged village.