Monday, March 31, 1997
Psychic scars slow to heal
for Falmouth residents

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Neediest Kids of All Flood Relief Fund
FALMOUTH - It's the smell inside the damp buildings and near the piles of rubble on the streets that gets to the mind.

Moist, acrid and thick, it sinks deep into the nostrils, clinging to the lungs.

No matter where Penny Conrad goes now, she smells that smell.

Even outside Pendleton County. On a recent shopping trip in Florence, it was raining.

''The rain there had a different smell,'' she said. ''I realized river mud smells different, and I felt alone in Florence. I feel as if we are living in parallel worlds. We're still stuck, and they still go on.''

Four weeks after the Licking River destroyed much of this city, the psyche of its inhabitants has changed.

Walls are going up and feelings of distrust are beginning to surface.

Now, instead of believing what disaster recovery workers tell them, residents are taping what is said and then making checks with other officials ''to make sure it's true.''

Reality is setting in and emotions are surfacing.

''This is very normal people having very normal reactions to a very abnormal event,'' psychologist Cathy LaCour said.

A member of the St. Luke Hospitals Disaster Medical Assistance Team, Ms. LaCour worked with Falmouth flood survivors.

Now that recovery and survival needs have been met, many residents might be experiencing a physical letdown.

''Who has time to feel anything when they are getting needs met? Now people have the time and energy to feel it,'' Ms. LaCour said. ''They are looking around and realizing this won't go away in a few weeks.''

Knowing her readers need something to focus on, Debbie Dennie, publisher of the Falmouth Outlook, tries to keep a positive note in the paper.

''It breaks my heart that people who were so happy with their homes and community are in turmoil and just drifting, not knowing where they will live or if they can build back.''

How those who endured the flood fare in the long term depends on support available to them before the waters rose.

A strong network of family and friends can provide the talking outlets and opportunities for financial help victims need now.

Randy Bastin has been relying on his family. Though they all are working 14-hour days cleaning and rebuilding the family stores, they talk and laugh together.

It's important to have fun or get out of town to give the mind something else to think about, Ms. LaCour said.

''You can't go out and kick the river for destroying your life,'' she said. ''People turn around and take out their frustrations on institutions or others. There need to be other outlets for that.''

Health officials also remind folks dealing with the physical devastation of such disasters not to forget their personal relationships - as a spouse, sibling or parent.

Counseling is available from the American Red Cross and other groups and should be sought at whatever point people feel the need to work out feelings, health officials said.

Residents also need to be prepared for emotions that might surface with the next big storm.

''We saw it a lot in Homestead (Fla.) after Hurricane Andrew,'' Ms. LaCour said. ''The first big thunderstorm caused a lot of fear.''

Mr. Bastin is already thinking about that.

''You can't sleep,'' he said. ''You go to bed thinking about it. And you wake up not knowing what to do.''