Tuesday, March 11, 1997
As river falls, calm surfaces
$290,000 in FEMA aid already headed to Ohio

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Neediest Kids of All Flood Relief Fund
As the Ohio River continued to fall Monday, hundreds of Tristate flood victims began to see the first tangible sign of relief in the form of federal housing assistance checks.

In Ohio, where state officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have received more than 4,000 requests for aid, 286 checks totaling $290,000 have gone out to help flood victims with temporary housing.

''This early in the recovery process, our concern is for people's housing needs,'' said David Skarosi, FEMA coordinating officer. ''For some, the housing assistance check is just the first check they will receive.''

In Kentucky, disaster officials said they will not have a figure on the number of checks issued so far and the total dollar amount until today.

''We do have checks that are hitting the streets,'' said Phil Kirk, deputy public affairs director of Kentucky Disaster Services office. ''That's within a week. That's not too bad.''

A toll-free telephone line - 800-462-9029 - for relief applications has been set up for the 16 Ohio counties that qualify for FEMA relief. The toll-free number can be used to apply for a variety of state and federal assistance to homeowners, renters and business owners.

In Cincinnati, FEMA will open its first area disaster recovery area at 8 a.m. today. People seeking FEMA help can call the center at 321-7560 or visit it at the Leonard S. Shore Senior Center, 4745 Playfield Lane, near Lunken Airport.

The river fell back to flood stage of 52 feet at Cincinnati around 11 p.m. Monday, after reaching 64.7 feet Wednesday. By 7 a.m. today, the river was expected to be at 51.5 and should continue to drop slowly, said meteorologist Steve Rowley of the National Weather Service in Wilmington.

Monday's sunny weather and the forecast of no more rain until at least Thursday night buoyed clean-up efforts throughout the Tristate.

But in hard-hit Falmouth, Ky., where five people lost their lives and residents are debating whether the town will have to be completely rebuilt elsewhere, officials say they will not be surprised if more bodies are found as the town digs out.

Somewhere between 300 and 400 Falmouth-area residents are still unaccounted for, disaster officials say. Officials suspect that most of those people probably have found shelter with relatives.

But Craig Peoples, director of the Pendleton County Disaster Emergency Services Agency, said it would be ''unrealistic'' to think that the Falmouth death toll will stay at five.

''We don't know how many more might be out there,'' Mr. Peoples said.

Mr. Peoples said the search for more bodies will continue with helicopters using infrared equipment to try to see through the mud and debris, which is in piles several stories high in some parts of Falmouth.

The flood was responsible for five fatalities in Ohio, but none in Cincinnati.

By Monday afternoon, Cincinnati city building inspectors had gone through 191 of the 500 damaged homes in low-lying riverfront neighborhoods.

William Langevin, director of the city's buildings and inspection department, said somewhere between 20 and 30 of the 191 inspected - mostly in California and the East End - have been found to be uninhabitable.

''Many of them had some very serious structural problems to begin with,'' Mr. Langevin said.

In the eastern Cincinnati neighborhood of California, every street that was covered with water last week is now not only cleared, but cleaned, said Cincinnati City Manager John Shirey.

''California is starting to look like a normal neighborhood again,'' Mr. Shirey said.

The Ohio National Guard still has 1,152 soldiers and 474 pieces of equipment in the field, including a contingent that is expected to be in Cincinnati until Wednesday.

So far in Ohio, the American Red Cross has served 33,620 meals to flood victims and has distributed 3,740 clean-up kits throughout the 16 Ohio counties.

The Red Cross still had 11 shelters open, and 234 people stayed in them Sunday night.

In Clermont County, a handful of residents were able to move back into their flood-damaged homes Monday even though tap water was not fit to drink and the toilets could not be flushed.

Officials were working to reopen New Richmond village hall today, and much-needed food, water, cleaning products and health-care services had been delivered to the smaller river towns, such as Moscow, Point Pleasant and Neville.

In New Richmond, police were planning to shut the command center at New Richmond High School on Monday afternoon and move operations temporarily into the second floor of the village hall at Union and Willow street. Village records and equipment, stored at the command center since Monday, also were being moved back to village hall.

About 90 residents were camped out Monday at the emergency shelter in the high school. Deborah Paugh, Red Cross shelter manager, said refugees would be moved into the basement gymnasium of the school. With New Richmond schools preparing to open Wednesday, the Red Cross is expected to begin offering emergency vouchers for lodging and food, so the shelter can be shut down, she said.

Downriver in southeastern Indiana, the river towns watched the waters roll back and continued to dig out of the mess. Aurora's downtown emerged from the water and residents and businesses - grateful for all the cleanup help over the weekend - made plans to return to a normal existence.

The Grand Victoria Casino & Resort continued delivering meals to flood victims and volunteers in Aurora and Patriot on Monday. About 250 casino workers helped clean up Aurora on Saturday, and 100 turned out Sunday, the day the Rising Sun riverboat reopened.

In Lawrenceburg, it will be at least a few weeks - and maybe months - before some of the businesses reopen in Dearborn Plaza. Water climed 5 feet inside stores in the strip mall along U.S. 50.

In Campbell County, Ky., four roads remain closed because of high waters: Dodsworth Lane, Uhl Road, Owl Creek Road, Truesdell Road at Oneota and Lower 8 Mile at Ky. 8. On Monday, the only bridge still closed between Newport and Cincinnati - the Taylor-Southgate Bridge - was reopened.

Phil Ciafardini, acting Newport city manager, said the Don Pablos and Chart House Restaurants reopened Sunday. Four floating restaurants on Newport's Riverboat Row - Barleycorn's, Remington's Roadhouse, Hooters and Crockett's River Cafe - are expected to reopen next week.

In Kenton County, only a section of Locust Pike in Ryland and the foot of Greenup street in Covington remain closed, officials said.

Along the riverfront, the Mike Fink restaurant opened at 4 p.m. Monday. The Covington Landing restaurants and attractions are aiming to reopen Wednesday, a landing spokesman said. Customers are encouraged to call restaurants before coming to the landing to make sure they are open.

Reporters Andrea Tortora, Tom O'Neill, Sheila McLaughlin, Greg Hall, Beth Menge, Cindy Schroeder, B.G. Gregg, Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.

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