Sunday, March 9, 1997
Monumental cleanup under way
But rain today could set back recovery

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neediest Kids of All Flood Relief Fund
The rumble of giant front loaders, the droning of water pumps and the persistent scraping of shovels resounded along the banks of the Ohio and its tributaries Saturday as people began a monumental cleanup after the worst flood in 33 years.

In small towns such as Rabbit Hash, Ky., and Patriot, Ind., and cities such as Cincinnati, backhoes lugged trees off roads while firefighters used high-pressure hoses to pound the mud on major streets. The air everywhere carried the sharp smell of disinfectant.

The ground, in many places, remained covered with inches of wet, brown mud, and was strewn with the river's mess: trees, bits of homes, garbage, pieces of furniture.

More rain today could set back some cleanup efforts.

The possibility of heavy rain led the National Weather Service to declare flash-flood watches in Kentucky for the whole day today, and most of southern Ohio for the afternoon and evening.

''One to two inches of rain is expected, and the ground is already saturated,'' said Mike Dangelo, meteorologist with the weather service office at Wilmington. The rain could cause fast-rising local flooding, but probably won't affect river levels except to slow their fall, he said.

''We're pumping out basements and hosing down the mud,'' said Assistant Covington Fire Chief Mike Rabe. ''That's the first step. From there, it depends on how bad the house was hit. We're doing what we can, but in some cases there's not much we can do.''

The river - though it retreated dramatically Saturday - still remains above flood stage.

By Saturday evening, the Ohio had fallen to 59.1 feet at Cincinnati, still 7.1 feet above the city's flood stage of 52 feet. The river is still pushing more than 4.5 million gallons past Cincinnati every second. The normal volume for this time of year is about 1.4 million gallons a second. The river is moving at 5.4 miles per hour, substantially faster than normal.

By Sunday morning, the water had disappeared from downtown, retreating south of Mehring Way. Elsewhere, the river is expected to return to its banks before noon Monday, said Steve Rowley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Damage estimates from the week of flooding now total $405 million in Ohio and Kentucky. Indiana does not yet have estimates.

Eighteen people in Kentucky and five people in Ohio died from the floods. In Ohio, 5,639 homes and businesses have been damaged by the flood.

In Kentucky, more than 75,000 homes and businesses are thought to be damaged. On Saturday, 20 more Kentucky counties - including Boone - were added to a list of those eligible for federal disaster relief. A total of 44 Kentucky, 28 Ohio and 13 Indiana counties have been declared federal disaster areas. Counties in West Virginia and Tennessee have received similar designations. Vice President Al Gore visited parts of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee Saturday to view flood damage first hand. In Ohio, Sen. Mike DeWine visited Adams and Brown counties.

In Saturday's sunny, springlike weather, residents from Portsmouth to Louisville sensed the Flood of '97 was, for the most part, over.

In downtown Cincinnati, Ohio Army National Guard troops used front loaders to scrape mud from parking lots west of Cinergy Field. City workers - joined by more than 60 members of the Guard - fanned out early Saturday to help residents clean up and to inspect more than 500 homes and businesses damaged by the flood.

But many quickly found themselves with idle time, waiting for the river to recede.

Officials, assisted by 58 military police from the Ohio National Guard, still are restricting access to the flood-ravaged areas.

In Kentucky, much of the cleanup included removal of destroyed homes. In Falmouth, caravans of trucks removed chunks of debris.

East of Cincinnati, in Adams County, Guard engineers spent the day hauling away gigantic trees killed by rushing floodwaters.

In Neville and Moscow in Clermont County, Ohio, people were allowed in to clean up. Cincinnati Gas & Electric inspectors and water works employees made their rounds to see whether people could return permanently.

Volunteers and aid for the flood victims continues to pour in from around the country. The American Red Cross, the largest aid group dealing with the flood, has opened 19 shelters throughout the region, serving more than 600 people.

Also, more than $500,000 has been collected to help the victims, mostly from local businesses.

Reporters Lisa Donovan, Sheila McLaughlin, Dana DiFilippo, Brian Gregg, Kristen DelGuzzi, Walt Schaefer and Beth Menge contributed to this report.