Wednesday, March 12, 1997
Flood sweeps Craig into action
Two days into his new job,
emergency service director has a problem

BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Craig Peoples doesn't worry about things until they happen.

''Why worry if a building's going to fall down if it's brand new?'' Mr. Peoples said Monday, taking a break from the emergency command center inside Southern Elementary School.

Dressed in his trademark brown work suit and sky-blue hard hat with the letters ''DES'' printed on the front, Mr. Peoples sat on a child's chair in the school's hallway.

His take on life serves him well.

Forty-seven and a half hours after he was appointed disaster emergency services director for Pendleton County, Mr. Peoples got a call from county Dispatcher Jackie Stephens.

It was 8:30 a.m. on March 2. The Licking River had risen to 17 feet in the Shoemaker town area on U.S. 22 east.

What happened next changed the lives of Mr. Peoples and nearly all of his fellow residents.

Married to Tanja, 29, for nine years and the father of 16-month-old Evan, Mr. Peoples, 28, said he didn't really want to be the DES director.

His life is already busy. He's been with the sheriff's department for six years - and still is a full-time deputy. Before that, he was the assistant manager of a furniture store.

A licensed funeral director, Mr. Peoples also worked at his family's funeral homes for four years after graduating from Pendleton County High School.

Raised in Butler on his parents' dairy farm - now the Peoples' Quarter Horse Farm on U.S. 27 - Mr. Peoples was born May 15, 1968, at St. Luke Hospital. He weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces.

Like much in his life these days, he was premature.

''I offered to be DES director more out of need,'' he said.

The county has been without designated DES personnel for years. Without it, fire departments can't qualify for grant monies. So Mr. Peoples met with county officials Feb. 24 to talk about recreating the position.

They discussed forming an emergency committee, what kind of training the new director would need and how to pay for it.

Three days later, Mr. Peoples was named DES director, a part-time job that the flood has made into a full-time pursuit.

''I guess I already blew my budget, and I'm pretty well trained now,'' Mr. Peoples said, exposing a rare but warm smile not seen in the days since flooding started.

Officials started evacuations on U.S. 22 east at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, as the Licking River approached 28 feet.

Mr. Peoples even went in person to the home of Hazel McGovney and told her she would have to leave her home. She did.

What happened during the next 12 hours caught everyone off guard. Water rose quickly, breaking over the banks and swamping Falmouth and Butler so fast many residents had to be rescued from second floors by boat.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Mr. Peoples is knowing the five persons who died in the flood - including Ms. McGovney, 54, and her daughter Crystal, 14 - had been evacuated, returning later.

Knowing these residents had been out of town in safe shelters ''lifts the burden,'' he said.

''We were unprepared as far as a plan of action or procedure,'' he said. ''I never dreamed there could be a flood of this magnitude.''

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