Saturday, March 8, 1997
Patience a prized virtue
Little privacy, lots of frustration

The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW RICHMOND - Les Edwards rolls over with a groan.

He fiddles with the air mattress pressure gauge to find out why the bed seemed so hard.

''My muscles ache,'' he said, rubbing his neck and leaning over to massage his legs. ''I gave my cot to some other folks who needed one. I guess I'll have to get my lungs exercising.''

It's 7 a.m. Day 5 at the Red Cross shelter at New Richmond High School, and Les Edwards jumps from the slick gymnasium floor with the same enthusiasm he has shown since the floodwaters started swirling last Sunday.

Unlike most shelter residents, the 58-year-old expects to have little damage. While his building was flooded, the waters didn't reach as high as his second-floor apartment. He'll just have a few spoiled pork chops and chicken breasts to toss from the freezer.

Others are slower to wake. Red Cross volunteers switch on one row of overhead fluorescent lights, and as morning murmurs chase away the silence, the sleepers rouse - some barefoot and in pajamas, others fully dressed atop the sheets.

8 a.m.: Breakfast. Coffee and tea. Toast, jelly doughnuts and biscuits. Eggs and sausage. All paid for by the Red Cross or donated by Tristate businesses. All served by volunteers.

Janice Block, the school's food service director, greets shelter residents with the smile of a stage actress and the manner of a traffic cop.

''Go on, get you something to eat!'' she says, as she ushers one family to the cafeteria line.

Jenni Elam, 14, of New Richmond, responds with a smile: ''They have good food here - and it's all free.''

In the elementary school library, the mayor sits down for his daily press briefing.

Mayor Jack F. Gooding announces New Richmond residents will be allowed to return home, but only if the water is less than 8 inches deep on their floors.

9 a.m.: In the big gymnasium the boys begin playing basketball.

9:10 a.m.: The town meeting starts late, but that's not the reason residents are angry. Mr. Gooding has just explained that residents wanting to return to their homes will have to get a pass and show identification to get past a police roadblock.

''Why do we need a pass to get on our own damn property,'' one man shouts.

Another adds: ''Give me my pass now - why are we wasting all this time?

Such hostility had arisen at other gatherings.

''A lot of them have been here for five days and they're irritated,'' Acting Police Chief Landon Williams says. ''I can understand that.''

But some flood victims say it's more than that. ''I've got a house built in accordance with the regulations of a flood plain, and the water hasn't come within five feet of it - and still I had to evacuate,'' says Donald Shuck, 57, a Main Street resident who has stayed with friends since Monday. ''Bad decision. They over-reacted. And they'll know come election time.''

10:15 a.m.: One-year-old Kayla Coffey lies on the hall floor and howls, angry at having lost the battle for a bottle cap with her sister. Nearby, Betty Coffey is trying to figure out how long she's been in the shelter.'

''Four days? Five?'' the 24-year-old mother of five says, glancing absent-mindedly at her wailing daughter. ''I don't know, when you're in here you lose all track of time.''

In the nearby gym, the steady thunder of basketball competes with Kayla's crying.

12:20 p.m.: In a whirlwind 45 minutes, Gov. George Voinovich tours the Red Cross shelter, surveys the flood area, meets village leaders, disaster workers and flood victims and talks to reporters.

He promises that the state will help pay for the cleanup.

''I wish I could talk to him''' says flood victim Dennis Arnette. ''I want to see if he could overturn what the mayor's saying about not letting us in our houses. By the time I could get back to my house I won't be able to save it.''

1:30 p.m.: The girls have taken over the basketball court. Before long the talk turns to boys.

''A boy asked me out last night!'' announces Candace Swiger, 11, of Neville. ''But I said no because Sara likes him and Sara and I are best friends.''

Sara Benjamin nods somberly before waving an arm braceleted by rubber bands.

''It's so fun here. I don't want to leave,'' she confides.

3 p.m.: Three people are waiting, and the phone keeps ringing at Berry Pharmacy.

The pharmacy, normally on old Route 52, had to close when flood waters cut off its entrance, so William Nelson moved his drugs and computers into the school's psychology office. Shelter residents snapped up about 170 prescriptions Thursday.

The doctor's office downstairs is similarly busy. This is the Southern Ohio Health Services Network. The New Richmond office was also flooded. Staff carted some supplies to the hospital and did some voluntary diagnosing.

''A broken ankle, choking, thyroid problems - we have a lot to keep us busy here,'' Dr. Kevin J. Breslin said. ''A lot of the flood victims are our patients anyhow so it only made sense for us to come here.''

3:30 p.m.: Donna Stevens is bored. The 20-year-old from Moscow finds the monotony of the shelter overwhelming. ''I feel like a homeless person,'' she said, comforting a woman nearby crying about her friend's losses. ''I lost everything. I just can't wait to get back to see what I can save.''

5 p.m.: Sen. Mike Dewine, R-Ohio, arrives for a repeat of the governor's tours.

8 p.m.: In the smaller gymnasium Les Edwards reads his Bible. Nearby the basketballs still pound. Mr Edwards doesn't hear them.

''I've got a lot of reading to do,'' he says, flipping to the next page.