Monday, March 10, 1997
River's fury packed
punch of 'hurricane'

Topography added to watery wallop

BY ADAM WEINTRAUB
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH, Ky. - Nothing shows the nearly unimaginable power of the Flood of 1997 like the devastation of Falmouth, where houses and cars were tossed like jackstraws.

In normal times, the Licking River pokes along, lazily spilling 10 cubic feet of water per second as it circles the Pendleton County city, said Julie Dian, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service at Wilmington, Ohio.

At the height of the flooding, the Licking spread so far beyond its banks that it flowed directly through Falmouth. In mid-channel, the river rushed at 100,000 cubic feet of water every second - more than 6.2 million inexorable pounds of water with each tick of the clock, pressing against everything in its path.

The water moved no faster than 5 mph, Ms. Dian said, but because of its density, it carried ''the force of a hurricane wind.''

The flood rose quickly in Falmouth, but it probably did its most severe damage once it reached its height, estimated at around 50 feet on Sunday and Monday. The previous record was 47 feet in 1964.

''I don't think a lot of the damage occurred immediately,'' Ms. Dian said. ''A house wouldn't immediately go off its foundation. It would fill up with water, then the river would keep pushing.''

Falmouth's location - below steep hills on the low ground where the South Fork of the Licking makes a sweeping curve before joining the main channel and winding north to the Ohio - put it squarely in the path of the massive forces of water seeking rest.

The surrounding hills put Falmouth in the path of flash flood waters from the heavy soaking rains.

The meeting of the rivers put the town in the bull's-eye for water rushing downstream from two directions.

The town's layout on low ground inside a river bend left it susceptible when flood waters rose enough to take the shorter path - straight across the town instead of around it.

''Much of the town had damage simply due to high water,'' Ms. Dian said, ''but some of it was due to fast-moving water.''

It appears that the severe damage in some areas was caused because of topography - the physical shape of the ground - that put those areas in the path of more powerful forces.

''It looks like there may have been a split flow around a high spot'' in the town, Ms. Dian said. The water rushing past the high ground near the cemetery, for example, could account for the more severe damage on Shelby and Riggs streets, she said.

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