BY LISA DONOVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MANCHESTER - On a day that was made for front porches, Ethel Saunders chose to stay inside Thursday - away from the noisy machinery that was devouring her old house next door.
It was the final act of the Flood of 1997 for Mrs. Saunders.
Hers was one of about 20 homes in the village destroyed by the March flood. This week, crews began clearing away the remnants.
In this Adams County village of about 2,500 residents, 72 homes have been declared uninhabitable by inspectors from the state and county boards of health and the state fire marshal, although officials say that doesn't mean the homes are beyond repair, or that owners will elect to have them torn down.
After another round of inspections, in which the list is expected to grow, village officials will compare the cost of the damage each residence sustained to its fair market value. If the cost of the repair is greater than 50 percent of the value of the residence, the owner may opt to either leave or raise the home above the flood plain, said Carl Miller, civil engineer and emergency operations officer for the Army Corps of Engineers.
''The goal is to get everyone out of the flood plain,'' Mr. Miller said.
It is an emotional decision for many residents, and therefore a long process, because the victims' homes are a celebration of their lives.
That was the case for Mrs. Saunders.
''She'll be 84 in August, and her life's collection was in that house,'' said her daughter, Ida Brock, 63, whose home is next door to her mother's on Fifth Street. ''She won't even come out and look at it. It's too sad for her.''
Mrs. Brock, her husband, Ernest, 64, and their 14-year-old grandson, Justin, sat on their front porch Thursday and watched as a track hoe lifted piles of rubble into the back of a truck.
The single-story, wood-frame home had served as a retirement bungalow for Mrs. Saunders and her late husband, Roscoe. They moved there in the late 1950s, after Mr. Saunders sold his Kentucky farm.
Because of health problems, Mrs. Saunders moved in with the Brocks seven years ago. Her house had become a sort of storage area. Many prized items, such as afghans, could not be saved because they were covered in mud and mold.
Several blocks away, at Fifth and Pearl streets, Tom Lute was rebuilding.
Both his home and a trailer on his property had been destroyed, and the remaining rubble had recently been hauled away.
On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Lute, 35, was surveying the foundation of his new home - in the same place where the trailer sat.
The residence will sit atop an 8-foot, two-car garage, Mr. Lute said.
''It'll have to be bigger than the 100-year flood to get me next time,'' he said.