Thursday, March 13, 1997
'Lord will take
care of us'

Couple take kids,
head for the hills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW RICHMOND - Sharon Elam faced her bedroom window and sobbed, head down and shoulders shaking, the few minutes spent inside the muddied, flood-ravaged house overwhelming her.

David Elam, her husband of 22 years, busied himself in a corner Saturday, stuffing clothes into a plastic bag, chattering steadily in a soothing tone.

''Now, stop your crying. ... Open the curtains there, let some sunshine in,'' he said, his voice filling the small upstairs room.

''Don't give it a second thought, Sharon. The Lord will take care of us. He always has, always will.''

Worst fears realized

It was as bad as she had imagined, through the five long days and nights in a Fort Mitchell Holiday Inn, where the family had been living since fleeing the fast-rising Ohio River on March 3.

She had tried to avoid thinking about it, but the image that slapped like a cold hand kept leaping into mind: brown, mud-thick water swirling neck-high through the house she compulsively kept clean.

By last Thursday, the image was fact.

Opaque water the color of coffee with milk flowed 6 feet deep on Center Street. Water covered a bicycle propped on the Elams' porch, lapping midway up the blue-curtained front windows, reaching just below the blue ''Welcome'' sign on the door.

About 1,600 New Richmond residents surrendered their houses to the Ohio last week in flooding that left 74 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana federal disaster areas. About two-thirds of the village's 2,500 people live in the flooded area.

Brown water remained knee-deep outside the Elam house Saturday. It had slipped from inside Friday night, leaving a thick coating of slick mud and a watermark higher than Sharon's kitchen counter.

David carried Sharon on his back through the water Saturday from their pickup onto the dry front porch. He shoved open the front door but couldn't step far inside.

Daughter Jenni's piano lay toppled in front of him. The sleeper couch, once against a wall, now blocked the way. Climbing over the piano, the couple walked through the house, shoes leaving footprints in the mud-saturated carpet.

Sharon moved in a daze, picking up a soggy cereal box, touching mud-streaked curtains, rescuing her grandmother's hand-made doily from atop the refrigerator.

''How do you come back in and live in something like this?'' she said.

David, 41, a New Richmond native and veteran of the 1964 flood, answered calmly from the kitchen. ''You clean it up, wash it out and dry it out and move back in - that's how we always do it.''

Sharon, 39, walked to the steps leading upstairs, murmuring, ''I can't do it, I can't do it.''

A day later, Sharon's distress led to a family decision: They're moving.

But until Wednesday, they didn't know where - just that it would be out of the flood plain.

''We ain't coming back,'' David said Sunday, carrying out furniture from the top floor.

''Look at this pile of my life,'' he said, waving at the soggy carpet and furniture hauled from the house they have rented for nine years.

Finally, some good news

Wednesday afternoon, the Elams' plight turned around.

In a whirlwind few hours, they heard about - and for $500 bought - a used mobile home for sale in Hilltop Estates on Ohio 132.

It fit the requirements: in their price range, in the New Richmond school district and high in the hills.

''At this point, we're desperate,'' Sharon said.

There's a bonus: Holiday Homes, which owned the mobile home, is offering a plan for flood victims that will allow the Elams to buy a new mobile home at a reduced price in three weeks.

Wednesday evening, with the screaming whine of power equipment blocking talk, the family - daughters, Jenni, 14, Jodie, 12, and Debra Hedrick, 21; and her 16-month-old daughter, Clara Hedrick - moved out of the Holiday Inn.

They will live temporarily with David's mother in the same mobile home park. Their new home will be livable by Monday, David said.

Without the generosity of others, the post-flood weeks would have been dismal, they said. Some offered furniture; others unexpectedly handed Sharon money.

''God has really been providing,'' Sharon said.

Her father's grandfather clock, her most prized possession, survived the flood on the dry second floor. But the water consumed a cardboard box of precious memories - ''all Debra's growing-up stuff'' - stored in a closet.

''The first stage of our lives is in it,'' she said sadly.

As the family loaded the truck to leave Fort Mitchell, Sharon laughed and kidded with her daughters. She had been struggling to stay above waves of worry.

''I'll be so glad when this is over. I am just exhausted. ... I just want a home.

''I just want a home.''