BY B.G. GREGG
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEW RICHMOND - The disheveled look, drooping eyes and tangled hair of those waiting for help at the American Red Cross' Disaster Relief Service Center in New Richmond said a lot. Many flood victims have had their hearts and spirits broken. Few were talking. Many held their heads in their hands.
Returning to normal after the Flood of '97 will mean much more than scraping mud off the basement floor.
They're going to need money, food and clothing. They're going to need someone to help them rebuild their homes. Some will need counseling to rebuild their lives.
People who have been through such traumas offer the victims some simple advice: ''They should remember to take care of themselves, first and foremost. Slow down and take it one day at a time,'' said Lori Hanson, a St. Charles, Mo., woman who spent months in a hotel with her husband and children when their home suffered heavy damage when the Mississippi and Missouri rivers flooded in 1993. ''They're going to need God.''
For those who work in disaster relief, dealing with devastation is a long-term commitment.
''We'll stay until our services are no longer needed,'' said Barbara Giles, marketing director for the American Red Cross in Cincinnati. The Red Cross is setting up 14 service centers in the Tristate to take care of needs such as vouchers for clothes or furniture, rent for an apartment or counseling.
Fred Nelson, manager of the service center in New Richmond, said business has been non-stop since it opened Tuesday morning.
Karen Hembree, 34, was one of the weary people waiting.
''I'm exhausted,'' she said. ''I'm a diabetic and I've never been through anything like this. I'm so tired.'' She and her husband, Don, and their Chihuahua and Pekingese dogs have been living in a car since the flood forced them from their mobile home last week.
Jessie Thomas, service coordinator for the Hamilton County Community Mental Health Board, providing free counseling for flood victims, said victims she met this week show signs of mental stress.
''As they were talking about their basic needs like food and shelter, they were saying things like, 'My husband wants to stay, but I want to move,' or 'I'm frightened,''' she said. ''Some people are in real shock and they may not know it.''
Marwood Hallett, secretary/treasurer of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster of Ohio, said several groups affiliated with his organization will stick around for long-term help.
Ms. Giles said the Red Cross needs volunteer caseworkers, physicians and nurses for the long term.
Some potential volunteers have thought ahead. Cheryl and Jeff Richards, Anderson Township residents, planned to wait a week or so before they and their two children approached the Red Cross.
''This is just like when somebody dies,'' Mrs. Richards said.''Everybody's there when it happens, but several weeks later after it all dies down, you find yourself all alone.''