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Response efforts begin in OH - WV

BY PJ HELLER | OHIO AND WEST VIRGINIA | July 1, 1998

Residents in Ohio and West Virginia began slogging their way back home

Tuesday to inspect the damage to their homes -- or in some cases to see if

anything was left -- as flood waters slowly began to recede from what some

local forecasters were calling a "100-year storm."

Interfaith organizations, meantime, were also trying to assess the damages,

the first time they were able to get into some of the flood ravaged

communities.

"Part of our situation is that the water is still up and we can't get into

certain areas," noted Marwood Hallett of Adventist Community Services and

the Ohio Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD). "Folks are

just kind of surviving at this time."

Further complicating relief efforts were continuing storms in some areas.

The National Weather Service Tuesday night issued flash flood warnings for

parts of West Virginia and Ohio, including the already hard hit areas of

Noble, Guernsey and Muskingum. Showers and thunderstorms were expected to

the move through the area Tuesday night.

Twenty-four counties in West Virginia have been declared disaster areas by

Gov. Cecil H. Underwood. Ohio Gov. George Voinovich declared 22 counties

disaster areas from the severe weather and flooding that hit his state

since last weekend. Another two Ohio counties were also declared disaster

areas due to previous storm damage. Voinovich initially asked President

Clinton to declare at least four of the counties federal disaster areas

from the storms which have devastated the state since June 24.

Late Tuesday, Clinton approved the request for the Guernsey, Muskingum,

Noble and Washington counties. Those areas will be eligible for federal

funding to help meet the recovery needs of storm-stricken residents and

business owners.

The assistance, to be coordinated by Federal Emergency Management Agency

(FEMA), may include grants to help pay for temporary housing, minor home

repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Low-interest loans

from the U.S. Small Business Administration also will be available to cover

residential and business losses not fully compensated by insurance.

Federal funds will also be provided for the state and affected local

governments in the four counties to pay 75 percent of the eligible cost for

debris removal and emergency services related to the disaster. The

declaration also makes cost-shared funding available to the state for

approved projects that reduce future disaster risks.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt indicated that more counties and additional

forms of assistance for state and local government agencies may be

designated later based on the results of on-going damage assessments.

At least 11 deaths were reported in Ohio, including six in rural Noble

County. Three storm related deaths were reported in West Virginia. An

estimated 9,000 people, most in southeast Ohio, were evacuated from their

homes, according to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. Residents of two

nursing homes in Cambridge, Ohio, had to be evacuated by boat.

The storms interrupted electrical service to tens of thousands of residents

in both states, some of whom have been without power for three days.

National Guard troops were delivering bottled water to communities where

water treatment plants had been flooded or affected by electrical outages.

As the flood waters began to recede in some areas, roads, including major

interstates 70 and 77, reopened, but traveled still remained difficult.

"After you get off the interstate, you can't go much of anywhere," Hallett

said.

He said it would probably be several days before cleaning kits being put

together by the American Red Cross, United Way and Adventist relief

organizations could be distributed to affected areas, due to the high water

levels.

The Salvation Army and Baptist relief organizations set up "feeding

stations" in hard-hit areas, he reported.

Ohio residents, meantime, took advantage of a lull in the storms on Tuesday

to inspect their homes, clear away mud and debris, and see what was left of

their possessions. Another series of storms are expected before the

weekend.

"We're still under the threat of storms, so we're trying to do as much as

we can now," said Pastor Travis Christman of Belle Valley (OH) United

Methodist Church.

In some cases, there wasn't much that residents who lost everything, could do.

Mobile homes were washed away and the water level in some permanent

buildings was five or six feet high. In Parkersburg, W. Va., 35 mobile

homes were washed away; people inside them were plucked from the homes by

volunteer firefighters chasing them in boats and on jet skis.

In Ripley, W. Va., residents of one trailer park were pulled to safety by

firefighters their mobile homes began to float off their foundations. All

13 trailers were washed away - nine of them were flattened against a nearby

bridge abutment.

"Things are just a mess," said Clark Peloubet, a Church World Service

Disaster Resource Consultant, after touring Ripley Monday afternoon.

Church World Service is sending hundreds of clean-up kits into the Ripley

area to help residents when the waters finally recede.

Before the Interstates reopened Monday and Tuesday, the flooded roadways

had left some rural communities cut off from the outside world. "We pretty much classify ourselves as Gilligan's Island," joked Bob Adkins,

a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Cambridge, OH.

Four generations of one family - a husband and wife and their 4-year-old

child, the child's grandmother and great-grandmother - took refuge in the

church Monday night. Several other churches in the area also were set up as

temporary shelters for some 200 residents who were forced from their homes.

"The churches are working together to support people out of their homes,"

Adkins said.

The Wills Creek at Cambridge was 12 feet above the 15 foot flood stage on

Tuesday morning.

Interfaith efforts were getting under way in Belle Valley to aid residents

there, as well as in the surrounding towns of Ava, Coal Ridge, Christman

said.

The Faith Baptist Church in Belle Valley was serving as an emergency

shelter for residents from those communities.

"We're trying to organize the churches to come in and do some work,"

Christman said.

He said representatives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief

(UMCOR) was already in the area and that Baptist and Mennonite relief

organizations were en route.

"It's a horrible mess," said Christman, who is heading up relief efforts

for the local ministerial association.

One of the major problems slowing cleanup efforts was the lack of water.

The town's water treatment plant, covered by 12 feet of water, was not

expected to be back in operation until Thursday, he said. Water was being

trucked in by the National Guard and by UMCOR. Electricity was still out

Tuesday to some parts of town.

He said "almost no one" in the poor rural community had flood insurance.

"Some people lost everything," he reported.

The Red Cross, meantime, was providing food, clothing and tetanus shots to

residents, he reported.

"The churches are all just kind of standing back and waiting," Christman

said. "We're ready to respond with relief and aid for rebuilding.

Basically, it's just a kind of waiting game right now."

Posted July 1, 1998


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