Friday, March 14, 1997
Damage estimates rising fast
Latest Tristate tally: $530 million

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neediest Kids of All Flood Relief Fund
The Tristate's share of flood relief costs is rising as fast as the rivers that swamped the region last week.

The latest damage estimates put the cost of the Flood of '97 at about $180 million for Ohio, $250 million in Kentucky and at least $100 million in Indiana.

''The damage numbers are literally changing by the minute,'' said Rita Kepner, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official in Cincinnati.

But officials and volunteers had more on their minds Thursday than guessing how much was lost.

In Falmouth, Ky. - a town devastated when the Licking River raged through it - Craig Peoples just wanted to know what became of 300-odd people on a list of those missing or unaccounted for.

Mr. Peoples, Pendleton County Disaster Emergency Services director, issued the list of names based on information from police and relief workers. He asks anyone who sees his or her name on the list to call 606-654-3300.


And in Indiana, ''our goal right now is to get assistance to people as quickly as humanly possible,'' said Alden Taylor, spokesman for the state's Emergency Management Agency.

In the 17 Ohio counties eligible for assistance - including Hamilton, Clermont, Brown, Highland and Adams - FEMA has taken 6,337 relief applications so far and has issued temporary housing checks for more than $1 million.

In the 63 Kentucky counties eligible for aid, 12,935 people have registered for flood assistance and about $4.5 million has been issued for temporary housing.

In the 13 disaster counties in Indiana, 1,490 people have registered for assistance, and $142,110 has been issued for housing.

Road to recovery

As communities began discovering how much hope they had left Thursday, residents in flood-prone areas braced for even more water.

The National Weather Service expects flash flooding to be a problem today as tributaries fill with anywhere from half an inch to 1 1/2 inches of rain, meteorologist Mike Shartran said.

In already hard-hit areas, such as Jefferson Township in southeastern Adams County, ''it can't hurt us any more,'' said Paul Howelett, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency. ''It will just reflood where it's already flooded.''

Villages such as Neville - 76 property owners east of New Richmond on U.S. 52 - might not recover from the latest flood to swamp the half-mile-square village.

Neville officials have been working since last summer on a program that includes options such as moving to higher ground.

''I would hope that when FEMA arrives, rather than paying individuals for flood damage, I hope they say, 'Let's go with the mitigation program,' '' Mayor Mike Christopher said. ''Why throw all that money down here if it's not solving problems. Personally, I'd like to see us move to higher ground.''

In Kentucky, the boil-water advisories remain in effect for 31 water systems, including Falmouth, down from 66.

In Cincinnati, demolition began on condemned homes. City inspectors found 10 buildings in California were seriously damaged and can't be rebuilt. Three are being torn down immediately.

Inspectors are still working in the East End, where 15 to 20 buildings have serious damage.

In Patriot, Ind., 16 members of the Indianapolis Colts met with flood victims Thursday.

They brought $7,000 in cash, 48 autographed footballs, and cases of jackets, jerseys, T-shirts, gloves and deodorant.

''They cared,'' Patriot resident Terri Chase said. ''We all got in a circle and held hands and one of the Colts members said a prayer - a really nice prayer.''

In Highland County, the last in Ohio to be declared a disaster area, only three families' homes were flooded, but a state park had major damage.

Damage at Rocky Fork Lake State Park, where the lake slopped over its banks, could come close to $400,000, park manager Floyd Beekman said.

At the Ohio Statehouse, legislators earmarked at least $40 million for flood relief.

Two days earlier, officials had estimated they needed $30 million. ''We just don't know exactly what we are getting into,'' said Greg Browning, director of the Office of Budget and Management. ''Expenses are rising as we speak.''

In Ohio, FEMA has agreed to pay about $41 million to rebuild roads, sewers and infrastructure; $25 million to restore stream banks; $15 million for individual and family grants; $12 million to raze buildings and move homes to higher ground; $5 million for state assistance for needy families; and $3 million to pay the Ohio National Guard.

Ky. figure unclear

FEMA has not yet determined how much it will pay in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Sen. Doug White, R-Manchester, urged his colleagues to improve the state's disaster-response strategy.

''We need trained people in there immediately,'' he said. ''Pretty soon the mountain is so high you have volunteers running around like ants with nobody knowing what they're supposed to do.''

He wants county emergency management officials to have authority to direct volunteer groups such as the Red Cross. That idea is expected to come up next week when the governor's administration and lawmakers discuss flood-relief efforts.

''When you have a disaster of this magnitude, everything isn't going to go like clockwork,'' he said. ''The best thing to do is sit down, identify the problem and see what you can do to make sure it doesn't happen again.''

Enquirer reporters Andrea Tortora, Christine Wolff, Michael Hawthorne, Beth Menge, Laura Goldberg and Ben L. Kaufman contributed to this report.