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Flash floods leave legacy in Appalachia


PORTSMOUTH, OH (April 3, 2000) -- The timing could scarcely have been better for Max Behrer. Just days before, the retiree had completed disaster response classes through the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) sponsored by Scioto Christian Ministry, a countywide interfaith service organization.

"And then boom! Here comes the flash flood and they called me. I said, 'You've got to be kidding me. On-the-job training, right now?' So really, it worked out pretty good."

Behrer was one of nine volunteers RSVP supplied to the local chapter of the American Red Cross to aid in the recovery from flooding that caught residents by surprise.

Water rose fast in these foothills of the Appalachian Mountains nestled on the Ohio River. More moderate rains had already saturated the ground by the time heavier rains began on Feb. 18 and continued steadily through the weekend, said RSVP Director Vicki Daily.

"It's our creeks and our little streams that really pick up all the rain off these hills," Behrer added. "All the water washes down off these hills into these little creeks and before people know it, they've got a small river in their backyard."

Underground creeks within the hills exacerbate the problem as well, Daily said.

More than 175 families-some 500 people-were affected by the flooding, and property damage exceeded $1 million in the federally declared disaster. One death was attributed to the flooding.

While 'stick-built' homes suffered minor damage, Behrer said, floodwaters ruined many mobile homes, filling some with four feet of water and floating others down hillsides, jumbling furniture, and leaving behind a thick muck of mud and debris on countertops and floors.

In one ravine, telltale debris was snagged in tree limbs 15-20 feet above the normal level of the creek bed, he said.

RSVP volunteers helped form the three to four two-person teams that were in the field assessing damages immediately after the flood, Behrer said.

In fact, many area agencies that responded to the flooding have begun the process of forming a Scioto County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).

Plans are underway to conduct disaster preparedness and mitigation activities this spring and summer.

The agencies have a responsibility to help people prepare for disaster, Harris said.

"The main goal of RSVP is to place volunteers who are 55 years or older in agencies or other nonprofits to meet community needs, and I can't think of any more of a community need than to help in a disaster," Daily said.

"We are going to be ready, because we want to be prepared for the next one. We want to meet those unmet needs, once FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and Red Cross (relief) is completed," she said.

Several families have yet to complete their FEMA and Small Business Administration (SBA) relief applications.

The Salvation Army and Catholic Social Services (CSS) are members of the fledgling VOAD and were also active in the recent response, providing clothing, food, furniture, cleaning supplies, and other immediate necessities.

CSS also helped survivors with doctor visits and medication, as well as counseling for people having emotional difficulties coping with their loss, said Barbara McKenzie, director of Catholic Social Services for southern Ohio and northern Kentucky.

CSS has completed most of its response effort.

"There's a few people that still have some loose ends to tie up, that are doing repairs and the repairs might run a little more than they think they're going to, and then we will have some funding that we can help them with that," she said.

Once people had gotten their FEMA funds, the Salvation Army helped pick up the slack, said Captain John Fox.

His organization also gave people vouchers to replace their carpeting and for apartment rent while they were still displaced.

"We're working together with all of the agencies to figure out what we can help with without doubling everything over. I think that's a great way to do it, when everybody's working together so that you're not duplicating services. You can take care of more people that way," he said.

The VOAD will enable CSS and other area response organizations to collaborate more effectively, McKenzie said.

"We'll be ready when something does happen, we can jump right in and give people assistance right from the very beginning."

Posted April 3, 2000

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