BY SANDY THEIS
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
NEW RICHMOND - Gov. George Voinovich toured portions of the flood-ravaged Ohio River valley Friday and said there was at least some good news.
''God has blessed the state with very few lives lost,'' Mr. Voinovich said upon his return to Columbus Friday evening. Five died in the flooding.
Mr. Voinovich said he also was struck by how people were helping one another.
He talked about walking into a shelter in New Richmond and seeing that people had set up a ''mini-market.''
''These people were still optimistic,'' he said. ''They had hope and they took comfort in the fact that people were there to help them, many of them strangers.''
Mr. Voinovich, who cut short a trade visit to the Far East, was emphatic that the state will pick-up local governments' tab for fixing flood damage.
The pledge drew smiles from stressed New Richmond leaders, who found several feet of river slime Friday when they returned to the evacuated village. They expect to discover infrastructure damage as flood waters steadily drop.
''Any help we can get is greatly appreciated,'' said village administrator Dave Kennedy, who led the governor on a tour through New Richmond's flooded streets.
Mr. Voinovich called the flood ''the greatest tragedy'' and said state officials now are assessing what resources residents can tap to help them pay for what's expected to be a staggering cost.
Mr. Voinovich took a 10-minute tour through the New Richmond High School, where the Red Cross set up a shelter for about 200 flood victims.
Earlier in the day in Adams County, Mr. Voinovich - whose family is involved in construction work - brought an experienced eye to bridge repair by the Ohio Army National Guard.
He quizzed Capt. Brenda Rosenberry, commander of Alpha Company of 216 Battalion Combat Heavy Engineers, about repairs to Wintersteen Run Road.
The 28-year-old officer explained temporary fords allowed marooned residents to leave their homes while approaches to the bridges and the spans were restored to preflood condition.
Pleased with what he saw, the governor turned to Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, and said, ''Just imagine where we would be in this tragedy without the Ohio National Guard.''
The governor and his fellow Republican also expressed their appreciation to the guard's 324 Company of military police from Middletown, and all the volunteers at the Jefferson Township Fire Department, whose facility was the warehouse for supplies being contributed to residents in Blue Creek.
Mr. Voinovich said state officials are doing an excellent job coordinating the cleanup.
''One of the things that one always wonders about, whether you're a governor or manager of a company, is how does that company or government respond to a crisis situation,'' he said. ''All of us hope to prepare for the worst and I would like to say that as governor of the state of Ohio I am very, very proud of our emergency management team.''
Reporters Ben L. Kaufman and Dana DiFilippo contributed.