Friday, May 2, 1997
Federal trailers at least are dry
Falmouth regroups in mobile homes;
rent free for 18 months

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Holding a flat-head screwdriver, Steve Lonaker surveyed his new neighborhood from the top of the wooden steps that lead to his white trailer.

''I wanted to have more room,'' Mr. Lonaker said Tuesday. ''I'm not used to having neighbors so close, but I'm not going to complain.''

Instead, the Lonakers - husband, wife, two sons and a daughter-in-law with a grandchild due any day - are regrouping and looking for a permanent home.

Their field office is trailer No. 4 in the temporary community of New Hope. Residents began moving in last weekend.

The new town is on a hill just 2 miles south of Falmouth, but it seems a world away from the old town, some streets lifeless, others busy with rebuilding.

In this new Falmouth, there are long white trailers in orderly rows. Dirt and gravel are the landscaping. There's little grass and no real place for kids to play.

Despite the contrasts, things are working well in the new community, said Len DeCarlo, spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

''We're really happy to be getting people in, and we hope we get more requests from people who might not have housing,'' Mr. DeCarlo said.

The nearly 1,000 Falmouth residents who lost their homes to flooding two months ago are getting new places to live. The furnished trailers are rent-free for up to 18 months and available to residents unable to find other suitable housing. Here, their only expenses are utilities and phone, but residents hesitate to call the trailers homes. ''Home'' suggests permanence; these are more like way stations.

Eight families have moved in. Eight more are expected by the end of the week. Eventually, at least 110 trailers could be occupied.

The community can house 162 trailers, up to 972 residents. More will move in as soon as they have utilities, Mr. DeCarlo said.

The Lonakers already are finding the comforts - and distractions - of home: Earlier this week, Mr. Lonaker, 51, was trying to fix a leak in the kitchen.

He stepped outside to take a break, watching the second phase of trailers being hauled in.

''We haven't got room for everything,'' Mr. Lonaker said as the clanking of dishes and the thud of moving boxes came from inside. Nanci Perry, 17, thinks her baby, who was due Sunday, will arrive before the grass does. It's the first child for her and Donnie Lonaker, 17.

After the Lonakers' Rigg Street home was flooded March 1, the family lived in five shelters - the middle school, two churches, the high school and a three-room apartment.

Mr. Lonaker, who works in a rock quarry, said he has lost all he's earned in the past 26 years. His wife, Donna, 38, a police dispatcher, is glad to be in the trailer.

It's a place to call her own for a while and it's on higher ground.

The family is hoping to qualify for a governmental buyout so they can find another home in Pendleton County. People qualify based on the amount of damage done to their home. If they qualify, they can sell their home to the city for its pre-flood value of the home.

Volunteering for the American Red Cross during the 1964 floods gave Mr. Lonaker an idea of the tragedy floods create. But he didn't really get it until now. ''Now I know what those people went through,'' Mr. Lonaker said. ''I wish I didn't.