BY CINDY SCHROEDER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Richard Cooper had just checked into a Georgetown, Ohio, motel with his bride of a few hours when he learned that high waters were threatening his native Falmouth.
What he did next was what any self-respecting resident of his close-knit town would have done, said the 26-year-old maintenance mechanic for St. Luke Hospitals.
He took his new wife back to their Georgetown home in the pre-dawn hours of March 2, then drove 160 miles on back roads to reach the flood-stricken town where four of his groomsmen and much of his family had headed after the wedding.
It would be seven days before Mr. Cooper would see his bride again.
''I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't gone back and tried to help,'' Mr. Cooper said in a telephone interview Friday from the St. Luke Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center in Falmouth. For the past two weeks, Mr. Cooper has handled maintenance at the facility, a temporary shelter, soup kitchen and supply center for Pendleton County's flood victims.
''As awful as (the Flood of '97) was, the one thing that came out of this was that people didn't want to rely on outside agencies to help,'' said Dawn Roeding, whose employer, Charles Berger of Charles H. Bilz Insurance Agency of Covington, spearheaded a collection drive for the American Red Cross. ''People pitched in, and helped one another.''
Typical of those efforts was the Pendleton County gospel radio station WIOK 107.5-FM, which became many residents' major source of flood news during the crisis.
Hours after the rains began, station personnel related what parts of Falmouth were under water. And in the hectic days that followed, the station read more than 500 names of missing residents sought by frantic families who were scattered throughout the county with no means of communication.
St. Luke sent its Disaster Medical Team - known as DMAT KY-1 - and Walgreen's pharmacists from Highland Heights to Florence temporarily filled prescriptions until a mobile pharmacy could be established.
At Plum Creek Christian Church near Grants Lick, ministers of various denominations supervised more than 200 volunteers. The church became a major distribution point for everything from canned goods to cleaning supplies.
Throughout Northern Kentucky, virtually every city building or firehouse has organized some type of flood relief effort or benefit. Businesses from Florence to Falmouth have donated equipment, manpower, or goods, and many churches set up shelters, soup kitchens or distribution centers.
Rosedale Baptist Church in Covington has used donated food from area businesses to feed about 200 Latonia flood victims and relief workers each day since March 6, Pastor Bill Dickens said.
''We've even had one lady who bakes a cake and brings it over, then goes home and bakes another,'' the pastor said.
Northern Kentucky farmers offered grazing land for flood-displaced livestock, and Carletta Chaney converted her Falmouth garage into a temporary kennel last week for more than 20 dogs.
In Fort Thomas, the Blue Marble Bookstore is collecting gently used children's books through Easter to donate to children in flooded areas.
''A little kindergarten boy from Visalia lost everything in the flood, so his teachers collected $50 and brought it here,'' said Nancy Baker, a partner in the Blue Marble. ''He left with a shopping bag full of books. His mother said it was the highlight of his life for the past two weeks.''
In Silver Grove, four students from Highlands High School and members of the youth group at First Baptist Church in Fort Thomas delivered hot soup and sandwiches last week to many of the town's residents who'd been left without power. They also removed mud and debris from flooded basements.
''Four wonderful people from St. Mary's (Church) in Alexandria showed up Tuesday, and worked for hours and hours, cleaning out the bays where the city trucks and equipment are stored,'' said Silver Grove Clerk Katherine Wright.
See a need, fill it
With the cleanup efforts in full swing, the Flour Creek Christian Church near Butler is offering free child care for infants through fifth-graders.
''The churches in the area just immediately saw the need for it,'' said Peggy Browning, who's on leave from her job at the Holmes High School Day Care Center to manage the temporary child care service. ''There were all these families who'd lost their babysitters in the flood. They were trying to get back into their homes and clean up this mud and muck that's full of bacteria.''
For two days last week, Adam Vaught of Cold Spring joined six others in cleaning flood-damaged homes of five co-workers from The Gap in Erlanger.
''I'm sure my co-workers would do the same for me, if I needed help,'' he said. ''I've lived through a tornado, but that didn't even begin to compare to the devastation I saw in Falmouth.''