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Townspeople along river confronted with long, daunting recovery

March 9, 1997

LEBANON JUNCTION, Ky. (AP) _ Already weary after fleeing the worst flooding in a generation, many townspeople along the Ohio River and its tributaries are confronted with a long, daunting recovery.

``I’ve never asked for help from anybody in my life, but I am today,″ said Butch Sweat, a Bullitt County magistrate and farmer, whose house here had water up to the second story.

``I just want to get in and get it cleaned up,″ Pam Weed said as she returned to her white-frame home, pointing to the waist-high muddy line on the side showing the high water mark.

Ahead were the chores of hauling out her ruined furniture and appliances, tearing up the muddy carpet and getting the power turned back on.

``I took a whupping, but some people really took a whupping,″ said husband Ira Weed. ``But if you can gripe, you’re alive. You’re OK.″

Vice President Al Gore stopped Saturday in this town of 2,500 along the Rolling Fork River, part of his four-state tour to see the damage from a week of flooding and make federal assistance available.

``You can look into their eyes and see their thinking ... how long it will take to put their lives back together,″ Gore said in Vinton, Ohio.

Down Highway 61 near Shepherdsville, Ky., which was still under water in some stretches, people covered their yards with mattresses, couches and other furniture, hoping the sun would dry them out.

``The floor’s buckling now,″ said Harrison Decker, who was using a portable heater with a blower to try to dry the interior of his house.

In nearby Boston, which was virtually an island for four days, people took advantage of the bright sunshine to see the damage.

``Right now is when the people really begin to suffer,″ said Joe Cissell, 68, as he pulled up all of the ruined carpet from his house to reveal warped floors. ``Everybody was just going real hard on instinct,″ he said. ``I don’t think it’s really hit everybody yet.″

Killer tornadoes in Arkansas a week ago and flooding since then in West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee have claimed at least 58 lives and caused millions of dollars in damages.

The Ohio River, which crested almost 16 feet above flood stage Friday at Louisville, dropped half a foot there Saturday to 38.3 feet. Experts said more rain expected Sunday will not be heavy enough to cause additional flooding, although a flash flood watch was issued for the Cincinnati area, 110 miles northeast of here.

At some downstream towns, the river isn’t expected to crest for days.

At Grandview, Ind., Dan Nies decided not to sit around and wait for Sunday’s crest. He was taking his family to higher ground.

``You can’t make the call when the water gets up to your windows,″ he said. ``You’ve got to do it when you can still get out on foot and take your stuff with you.″

In the western Kentucky town of Spottsville, where the crest isn’t expected until Tuesday, water was rising at the rate of an inch every four hours and was already high enough to break out windows.

As Billy Jackson boated through his neighborhood, an American flag revealed only a few stars and eagle atop its pole above the water. He pursed his lips as he watched the muddy water flowing through his trailer.

``That’s all I have, what’s in there,″ he said. ``That’s all any of us have.″

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