BY BEN L. KAUFMAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
On the chance that someone hasn't heard that federal money is available to flood victims, representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) prowled Tristate bars and visited churches over the weekend.
One lucky hit on Sunday at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Cincinnati's California neighborhood was Charles Gill.
''He saw my FEMA shirt and he said, 'I have a problem','' community outreach specialist Bob Claeys said.
Mr. Gill had done nothing to clean up his two houses and workshop since the Ohio River receded.
It wasn't that he had been under a rock or in a cave, Mr. Gill said. ''I was told to wait until the (insurance) agent got here and not to move anything.''
Mr. Gill said the message was the same each time he called Nationwide, his flood insurer, since March 5. ''They always said, somebody would be in contact with me.''
Meanwhile, floors buckled, walls sagged, a chimney detached itself, tools rusted, and a raccoon tracked through the mud, unsuccessfully seeking something to eat.
No one contacted Mr. Gill and he did nothing, fearful of jeopardizing compensation at his home at 108 Eldorado Street, his nearby workshop, and vacant rental property at 5918 Bryson St.
Mr. Gill was staying with friends, and Mr. Claeys told Mr. Gill, a contractor, to clean up the mess and to document the damage with photos if possible.
A claims taker at Nationwide's toll-free number in Columbus said Sunday she agreed with that advice, and she did not know how the misinformation got out or the misunderstanding occurred.
''We don't expect them to live in a house full of mud and water,'' the company representative, who would not give her name, said. A Nationwide attorney would speak for the record, she added, after checking with a supervisor.
Ticked off as he was, Mr. Gill, 58, hadn't lost his sense of humor. ''I have one advantage over everybody else,'' he said with a laugh. ''I have it documented from the last mess.''
Mr. Gill finished remodeling Feb. 28 from a stove fire last fall.
As Mr. Claeys and Mr. Gill talked about various FEMA grants and Small Business Administration loans to flood victims, Kelli Kalberer and Noah Weiss spread the same news throughout the California neighborhood.
''We've hit some bars, some churches, some gas stations, anyplace where people gather or hang out,'' Mr. Weiss, 22, of Hurricane, W. Va., said.
He and Miss Kalberer, 22, of Ross, Ohio, are Americorps adult literacy workers in Cincinnati, temporarily helping FEMA distribute flood recovery information in California, the East End and Newtown.
Most residents have begun their FEMA applications, Miss Kalberer said, but many mistakenly believed ''FEMA gave only loans and not grants, so we had to explain.''
While FEMA is sending out checks to eligible Tristate residents in as little as four days, there have been foulups in the disaster housing program, spokeswoman Rita Kepner said.
Most common slipups involve victims giving a non-working telephone number or their home mailing address although they've moved elsewhere temporarily.
''It is a common problem when people are stressed,'' she said
Ms. Kepner said FEMA has taken at least 14,453 aid applications in Kentucky, 7,259 in Ohio and 1,758 in Indiana.
By Friday or Saturday, FEMA has given out almost $13 million in grants for minimal repairs or temporary housing in those three states, plus at least $800,000 in grants to cover needs to displaced flood victims in their new homes.
Those grants and low-interest loans help, but they are no substitute for private flood coverage, Ms. Kepner said, and ''it's a common misconception that 'I don't have to buy insurance, FEMA will bail me out'.''
That isn't the way it works. ''Are we going to build them a house? Heck, no!''
FEMA officials have checked two-thirds of the more than 1,000 Pendleton County homes and businesses with flood damage.
Victims are eligible for a maximum of $10,000 in immediate emergency repair and temporary housing assistance from FEMA.
Meanwhile, in Pendleton County, the list of more than 200 missing persons shrunk by 20 names on Sunday as more residents called the dispatch center to say they were OK. Disaster Emergency Services Director Craig Peoples said most of the missing were probably safe with friends.