Finished with its ruinous work in the Tristate, the flood of '97 crested Tuesday over flood stage around Evansville, Ind., on its way to Cairo, Ill., and the Mississippi River.
Latest forecasts show the water surging out of the Ohio River will cause flooding all along the Mississippi from Illinois to Louisiana, according to Bob Stucky, a hydrologist with the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in New Orleans.
Mr. Stucky said the flood will crest March 20 in Memphis, Tenn., and March 31 in New Orleans. He said the amount of water pouring out of the confluence of the Ohio and Upper Mississippi was way above normal.
The Ohio, though deceptively narrow along its 981-mile length from Pittsburgh to Cairo, is the third-largest river in terms of volume in the United States. Only the Mississippi and the Columbia rivers have greater volume. So when the Ohio floods, so does the lower Mississippi.
In Illinois on Tuesday, Gov. Jim Edgar declared the state's southern border counties disaster areas.
To the east for more than 400 miles, cleanup continued as the river receded. As of Tuesday afternoon, the river had dropped to 50.3 feet at Cincinnati, 1.7 feet below flood stage, according to Monte Wheeler, hydrologist with the River Forecast Center in Wilmington, Ohio. The flood crested last Wednesday at Cincinnati at 64.7 feet.
Throughout the Tristate, National Guard troops, volunteers and weary homeowners spent another sunny day clearing roads and fixing homes. Health officials warned that face masks were a good preventive measure for cleanup crews
against possible, though unlikely, bacterial infection.
All told, flooding killed five Ohioans and 19 Kentuckians. In Greater Cincinnati, 3,709 buildings were damaged. The flood's price in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana is expected to climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Ohio emergency officials continued to catalog the flood's cost. Gov. George Voinovich opened his day with a cabinet meeting at the state's Emergency Operations Center in Columbus. He then toured flooded areas, including Cincinnati, where he opened one of the new Federal Emergency Management Recovery Information Centers at Lunken Airport. Five other centers were opened in Clermont, Brown, Adams, Scioto and Lawrence counties.
The centers, set up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), are designed to provide one-stop shopping for government flood assistance.
People are urged to call (800) 462-9029 to register as a victim. For hearing impaired people, the number is (800) 462-7585. For those who are registered and want updates on their files, an additional help line was established at (800) 525-0321.
State officials estimate damage to Ohio communities at more than $155 million.
In Columbus, the governor's office and legislative leaders vowed to use at least $25 million in surplus funds from the state budget to leverage federal flood relief money.
Another $5 million would be appropriated to cover overtime and other costs incurred by the National Guard and state agencies.
Lawmakers are expected to authorize the spending in the next few weeks. The money would cover the 25-percent match of local and state money required to obtain federal funds for the flood relief effort.
''We don't know how much it's going to end up costing, but this is doable,'' said Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale.
In Cincinnati, council members Charlie Winburn and Jeanette Cissell - backed by Minette Cooper, Phil Heimlich and Dwight Tillery - called Tuesday for the city to use prisoners to help with flood cleanup. Council's Finance Committee recommended approval of the motion. The full council is expected to pass it today. The idea already is being used in other counties.
City Manager John Shirey's office reported all major roads were cleared of mud and debris. Work continued to inspect the estimated 500 flood-damaged buildings in the city.
In Adams County, the Emergency Operations Center staff in West Union estimated 500 buildings in the county - most of them mobile homes - needed to be replaced. Another 700 homes have suffered some significant damage but can be repaired. More than half the buildings damaged were in the river community of Manchester, they said. They estimate 3,000 people have been displaced.
In Brown County, workers continued to search for a Sardinia man who may have fallen into the Ohio River near Aberdeen on Saturday.
Russell Malblanc, in his early 70s, had been taking photographs in the flood ravaged areas of Adams and Brown counties. Authorities believe he had parked his Ford off of U.S. 52 between Ripley and Aberdeen, about an hour's drive east of Cincinnati, either late morning or early afternoon Saturday. He was last seen Saturday morning, Brown County Sheriff's Detective John Fetters said.
In Clermont County, along U.S. 52, which parallels the Ohio, people could be seen Tuesday cleaning up their homes, businesses and churches. Muddied mattresses, furniture, clothing and toys were piled outside of residences. In some spots, smoke poured from cans of burning debris.
In New Richmond, Shirley Bailey said she and her family and friends will repair the house her father built in 1945. The modest one-story home is now a rental unit - and Mrs. Bailey, 60, said she refuses to give up completely a cherished part of her past.
''I watched my dad build it .Ç.Ç. and we're going to keep it,'' said a tearful Mrs. Bailey, who now makes her home in New Richmond.
In Kentucky, FEMA Director James Lee Witt toured Falmouth, destroyed when the Licking River swept through the downtown, killing at least five people.
''This is just as devastating as the Midwest floods in 1993, those were just larger,'' he said.
Falmouth residents continued the cleanup efforts with much debris removed from streets. About half of the National Guard pulled out Tuesday night, leaving behind one unit of engineers and one unit of military police to help with cleanup. The guardsmen were reassigned to other Kentucky communities damaged in the flood. The search for more bodies in Falmouth continued.
In Aurora, where the water still came halfway up the basketball posts at the middle school playground Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon arrived in a helicopter to survey damage and applaud volunteers.
He stood in the Aurora Fire Department garage, which was underwater when he was there a week ago, and said he'll begin assessing the damage and how to keep it from happening again.
''After the cleanup, after the repair, after the fixes,'' he said, ''we can prevent it partly by flood zoning and by requiring flood insurance.''
Tanya Bricking, Tom O'Neill, Michael Hawthorne, Sandy Theis, Ben Kaufman, Andrea Tortora, Laura Goldberg and Jane Prendergast contributed to this report.