BY TANYA BRICKING
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In the hardest-hit hamlets along the Ohio River, the dance with disaster has changed nearly everything that seemed familiar. The chore for those returning home is finding some normalcy.
Even for the lucky ones - the ones whose homes were spared - the task of returning is more than the clean-up.
''This was like a tiny vacation on Gilligan's Island,'' said Mabel Palmer, 78, who stuck it out in her Adams County home even when the flood surrounded it.
Water crept a foot into the gas station and gift shop she owns in Manchester, about an hour's drive east of Cincinnati. But as she and friends cleaned up the shop filled with trinkets marking local landmarks Saturday, she found humor and hope in the situation.
The muddy water that covered three-fourths of her town subsided, leaving stove tops and hub caps in strange places. But like thousands of others in towns like hers, she was grateful she survived.
She even got some housework finished between phone calls.
''I'd no more set that darn thing down than it would ring again,'' she said. ''People were worried about me. It was real nice.''
'I've cried enough'
In Moscow, a riverside hamlet off U.S. 52 in Clermont County, locals pulled up saturated furniture and carpeting in their first day back in the village.
Water marks on the walls in John Shriver's Elizabeth Street home are at 4 1/2 feet.
''I've cried enough. We just start cleaning up and start over. We just start over and move back. We don't have no choice,'' he said, eyeing the overturned refrigerator.
''We're fortunate. I guess we could have lost everything.''
Like the Shrivers, most residents here and in nearby Neville have lived through floods. They know the clean-up routine.
''I'd say by summer you probably wouldn't know it even happened by looking at the town itself,'' he said. ''Go into the households and its a whole different story.''
About 75 percent of this village of 425 people was evacuated earlier in the week and 85 structures took in water.
Postmaster Janet Blackburn and two helpers carried postal bins up and down U.S. 52, handing over almost a week's worth of mail to each family.
''It's chaotic,'' said Carol Christopher, who is married to the mayor and serves as clerk of council. ''We've been too busy with this to even get to our own house.''
An hour southwest of Cincinnati, residents broke out rakes and mops Saturday in Patriot, Ind., and carefully trekked through mud as slippery as ice.
Nearly three-fourths of the 85 houses in this Ohio River town were damaged by the flood of '97.
''Fortunately the people banded together, and they didn't have to go to shelters,'' said Joyce Bailey, 52. ''These people here help themselves. And they never ask for anything in return. They're like a big family here, and they'll survive.''
Indiana 156 remained closed Saturday. The only way into town was a twisty country road. Supplies arrived this weekend. ''It looks like it's going great,'' said Sarah Forthman, 33, of Patriot. ''Everybody is pitching together.''
It was water that brought on the devastation, and it is water - and a little disinfectant - that will clean it up.
In places like Ripley in Brown County, storefronts were lined with cleaning supplies.
''Cleaning up is worse than waiting for it to get here - or even when you're expecting it to get here,'' said Jim Haitz, 31, who was helping at a video store.
The National Guard's presence was strong in the hardest-hit towns, and for some they were aiding, the flood of '97 wasn't all bad.
''If it did nothing else to this town, it cleaned out a lot of garages with junk in them,'' said Terry Kemmeter, 41, of Ripley, who was helping clean Trapp and Wilson Furniture in this downtown district of Brown County.
Mr. Kemmeter said it's best to have a sense of humor at times like these. Besides, most people should know what they're getting into when they build near the river.
''When you become a river rat,'' he said, ''you've got to live with it.''
Enquirer reporters Lisa Donovan, Beth Menge and Sheila McLaughlin contributed.