The Heat Is Online

Record flooding of Ohio River -- March, 1997

"Struggle against flooding Ohio River goes on"

LOUISVILLE, Ky.--March 8, 1997 -- (Reuter) - Mud replaced water as the worst enemy of flood victims gradually returning to their devastated homes Thursday, as the Ohio River's highest crest in three decades approached the riverfront city of Louisville.

Another body was found in the stricken town of Falmouth, Kentucky, where rescue workers resumed their grim search for the dozen or more residents still missing. Officials pleaded with anyone who might have fled the town to report their whereabouts.

``Our best estimate is that we still have 15 people unaccounted for and we still have about 40 percent of Falmouth to cover in our house-to-house search with dogs,'' Craig Peoples of the Kentucky's Department of Disaster and Emergency Services said.

Eighteen people have died in Kentucky since last weekend, bringing to 57 the number of victims linked to weekend storms that hit from Arkansas to West Virginia. Kentucky authorities issued instructions to those beginning to clean up the mud and debris in their homes about what to discard and what could be burned safely.

Under sunny skies in Cincinnati, the Ohio River actually dropped a few inches Thursday morning from its crest of 64.7 feet late Wednesday, which was 12 feet above flood stage.

The rain-swollen river was still rising downstream as it coursed through Kentucky and Indiana, where dozens of swamped towns on either side of the river remained evacuated.

In Louisville, where the river had been expected to crest Thursday, residents endured flooded basements, but the city's several miles of reinforced flood walls had held so far, officials said.

Kentucky added 15 counties to the nine already declared disaster areas and said 88 of its 120 counties and 68 cities were affected by the flooding. Nearly 900 people were in shelters, many fleeing homes along the state's thousands of miles of backed-up creeks and rivers flowing into the Ohio River.

Fifty miles west of Louisville in Tell City, Indiana, National Guard troops and jail inmates joined townspeople to sandbag areas lucky enough to have flood barriers.

``The river's going up, but nothing really dramatic. Just a slow, methodical rise in the water,'' Indiana Emergency Management Agency spokesman Alden Taylor said.

James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who accompanied Vice President Al Gore on his abbreviated tour of Cincinnati Wednesday, said his agency had greatly expedited relief aid for disaster victims.

``It used to take 30 days before we'd get checks out to people. Now we can get those checks out in five to 10 days,'' Witt said. The flood even caused cancellation of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus during the five days it was scheduled at Cincinnati's Riverfront Coliseum.

But in a public relations stroke, circus managers sent in the clowns anyway to perform for flood victims housed in overnight emergency shelters around the city.

See Also: "Thousands flee flooding in four states," The Boston Globe,March 9,1997