Wednesday, March 12, 1997
Falmouth pleads help
from 'FEMA man'

BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH, Ky. - Touring flood-stricken Falmouth by foot and car, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency promised Tuesday that money would start pouring in within days.

''When you see a whole town wiped out ... you can see it on television, but it's nothing like seeing it in person,'' said James Lee Witt, who added that the damage was among the worst he's seen at a flooding site.

Mr. Witt arrived here with about 30 FEMA workers, who were deployed to help answer questions and calm concerns.

And residents had no qualms about confronting ''the FEMA man'' as he walked down Pendleton Street.

Nalene Hyatt walked up to Mr. Witt as he got out of a Kentucky National Guard humvee in front of her home at 901 W. Shelby St.

''This is a rumor and somebody told me,'' she said as she shook Mr. Witt's hand. ''They said the government would set up a trailer park for those without homes.''

FEMA is working with the state to decide how to solve the housing problem, Mr. Witt said. The first objective is to use all available rental property.

The agency will provide three to 18 months of rent money. Checks are being issued within five to 10 days of initial phone calls.

''The money will go a long way,'' Mr. said. ''We want to look now at what it will take to help the town begin again.''

He told residents to call the FEMA hot line and ask about $10,000 Emergency Home Repair Grants and $13,000 individual family grant programs to help replace personal possessions.

At 401 Pendleton, owner Patrick Bass and a friend, Greg Barnes, waited out front to talk with Mr. Witt. As he walked by in a cloud of photographers and reporters, Mr. Bass turned to go inside.

But Mr. Witt retraced his steps and went back, taking stock of the now gutted two-story home Patrick and Laurie Bass bought three months ago. Mr. Bass pleaded his case, saying he needs as much help as he can get.

''Go ahead and file for a family grant,'' Mr. Witt told Mr. Bass. ''You don't have to pay it back.''

Business owners also should call FEMA and ask for information from the Small Business Association. Flood victims also can receive 26 weeks of disaster unemployment benefits.

Mr. Witt's tour - which also included stops in Grandview, Utica and Aurora in Indiana as well as western Kentucky - signaled a new phase in Falmouth's recovery. As cleanup continues and fewer residents need shelters for homes, the National Guard is preparing to hand control of the city back to local law enforcement.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, National Guard security police were scheduled to pull out, leaving only the 201st Engineer Battalion behind.

The Pendleton County emergency command center, now at Southern Elementary School, is being moved into mobile trailers on the fairgrounds to allow school officials to get ready for students' return sometime next week.

Mayor Max Goldberg - rushed to the hospital Saturday for a heart-related pain in his neck - was released Tuesday from St. Elizabeth Medical Center South in Edgewood.

The search for bodies and efforts to determine how many residents are truly missing is now being handled by the Kentucky State Police.

Meanwhile, Pendleton Disaster Emergency Services Director Craig Peoples said Tuesday he expects to find more bodies.

More than 300 people are listed as ''unaccounted for.'' Officials say this list is inflated because of poor communications.

Trooper Jan Wuchner said state police need help finding those missing. Anyone seeking information about a family member or friend should call the state police at (800) 222-5555.

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