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Flood Destruction Cleared, But Emotional Healing Is Far From Over

June 10, 1991

SHADYSIDE, Ohio (AP) _ Rich Kellner leaned against the fence behind first base and cheered as his 10-year-old son John scored the tying run and exchanged high fives with his teammates.

″It’s good to have this back - baseball and all,″ Kellner said. ″Everybody was so in shock and involved with the flood last summer, we just suspended it. This helps us feel normal again.″

One year ago, on the night of June 14, 1990, flash floods killed 26 people and wiped out scores of homes in these rugged hills of eastern Ohio.

One of John Kellner’s teammates, 8-year-old Danny Humphrey, died with his 12-year-old brother David and their mother, Sue, when their home was swept down Pipe Creek five miles south of Shadyside.

″Danny would be out there with them now. It’ll be with us the rest of our lives,″ Rich Kellner said.

Ray Ponzo said the flood haunts him every time he strikes up the junior high school band.

″The Humphrey boy, David, was the only saxophonist I had in that sixth- grade band last year. Kerri Polivka, she was my drummer in that band and just tomboy enough to do it well,″ Ponzo said.

″I look out this year over our seventh-grade band and those spots are empty.″

Five inches of rain fell in less than two hours and sent a wall of water up to 25 feet high crashing down through Wegee and Pipe creeks about 9 p.m. that night.

The flash flood destroyed 87 houses, severely damaged 48 and caused lesser damage to 44 more, according to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency. Trees were uprooted and twisted, and cars were knocked about like bathtub toys.

But weeds now cover earth the water had scoured bare. New houses have been built, and the ruins have been hauled away.

In May, federal and state aid to local home and business owners totaled more than $3.7 million. Government cleanup costs and estimates of damage to public structures such as roads and bridges came to $6.4 million. The Ohio National Guard did $3.3 million in cleanup work as its summer training project.

Counselors still work in a three-room mobile home to help ease the psychological pain people feel as they rebuild their lives.

″You don’t have to lose family to hurt. Some people felt guilty that they lost property while others lost lives. But a loss is a loss, pain is pain,″ said Nancy Olexick, who works for the regional mental health agency.

Children use toys and art to deal with their feelings.

One creation is a plaster impression of a child’s face with one side painted yellow and the other a muddy orange. Sequins and clear plastic baubles glued beneath one eye represent tears. Art therapist Diane Stern said the mask represents the child before and after the flood.

For 10-year-old Amber Colvin, the memories may fade, but they will never go away.

Amber was playing with 13-year-old Kerri Polivka when the wall of water crashed down the valley, destroying the Colvins’ mobile home and most everything else in its path. Amber survived only by clinging to some debris.

″I have this picture of Kerri and when I’d look at it, I’d have nightmares,″ said Amber, who remembers unsuccessfully trying to save her friend.

The nightmares subsided after Amber’s parents put the photo out of sight. But other problems are not so easily remedied, they said.

″It’s been a hard struggle. There doesn’t a night or a morning go by when we don’t think about the flood,″ said her father, Denny Colvin.

Herman Adams had eaten supper with his daughter and grandchildren - Sue Humphrey and her sons - moments before he watched their house vanish into the surging Pipe Creek.

″Then, in December, my wife passed away,″ Adams said in a soft, trembling voice. ″I found my peace through Jesus Christ. If God hadn’t given me peace, I don’t think I’d be here.″

Adams and 16 other members of the Pipe Creek Memorial Fund Committee met one night in a Methodist church to firm up plans for a monument in memory of 12 of the victims, which will be unveiled on the first anniversary of the flood.

″We all live close by. Herman Adams sees it every day. I look out and I can see it ... the empty space, missing homes, kids, animals, friends - all gone,″ said Phyllis Palmer, whose parents, Don and Mary Grimes, were killed.

Neighbors bickered over plans for a memorial to Wegee Creek’s 14 victims - ″What we had was this person wanted to do this, this other one wanted to do that and got to screaming at each other,″ said Beverly Palmer, who once chaired the memorial committee - before coming to an agreement.

Construction began late last month.

Palmer stared across the street toward a white wooden sign bearing two small U.S. flags and the names of flood victims, many of them her friends.

″The same thing happened on both creeks. We all lost people we cared for, and we ought to do something good for them. It happened, and I know that, but sometimes it’s hard believing it’s all real,″ she said.