G. Sam Piatt
PDT Outdoors Contributor
Fishing in the region is pretty much on hold right now as streams, rivers and lakes are flooding again. Even farm ponds are too muddy to produce. Fishing backwaters is sometimes productive, but is pretty much unpredictable this early in the year.
All winter long, the Ohio River’s been up and down like a yo-yo.
Of course, that’s nothing new for the Ohio. I know, for I’ve lived along the big river all my life.
And sometimes in it.
As I write this, the Ohio is on its way back up.
My friends living in the flood plain – such as down along lower Ziegler Lane west of Portsmouth and in Beattyville, the little village in South Portsmouth where I spent my boyhood — wring their hands and watch the river.
They can ill afford to wait too long, until it’s too late to back a truck up to the porch.
In Beattyville, the last time some residents, such as the late Hobo Cooper, had to move their belongings out was in March 1997, when the Ohio River reached 63 feet.
At 58 feet it would begin to back into the ditches that carry storm water into the river and start to creep into the village from the lower end.
In 1997, the water crept up the walls of the two rooms on the front of Hobo’s house, which are at ground level, but did not get on the main floor, which is four feet above ground level. Even so, they lost the furnace and AC and hot water tank. The water wound up surrounding the house and filled the streets. The family barely managed to get their belongings out by truck before a boat would have been necessary.
At that time they didn’t have flood insurance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) loaned them enough money to replace equipment and some flooring and get things back in order. The loan was made at 3.5 percent interest.
Jerri Cooper took out flood insurance after ’97. It was paid for at $42.50 a month. But the policy calls for her to pay the first $2,000 in damages.
Today, at my home in Sand Hill, two miles above South Shore, I don’t have to be concerned about flooding. If the river reaches my house, Noah will be loading animals into the ark.
But having lived in the flood plain nearly all of my growing-up years, I can sympathize with Jerri Cooper and others like her. Most of the time they enjoy their home on the river. With no flood wall to impede their view, they can watch the towboats go by. They can have their own little boat dock, and just walk down “under the bank” to go fishing. But ever so often, such as 1997, they are reminded afresh and anew that the beautiful Ohio can turn ugly; turn from being a friend into being the enemy who invades their property and their lives.
THE BIG ONE
I was too young to fully experience the Big One, the flood of 1937, when the Ohio River reached 74 feet at Beattyville. At the time we lived at the top of Stoner Hill, in Old Fullerton, high up where we could look down on the river, see it bending past New Boston and flowing on past Portsmouth; see the Scioto River flowing down from the north to empty into the bigger river at the lower end of Portsmouth.
There is one sharp image that sticks in my mind from that flood of ’37. It is of my mother, standing in our front yard, holding me in her arms, and pointing to a house – or was it a barn? – floating down the middle of that yellow, debris-strewn river.
I recall quite vividly another flood, five or six years later, when my father made a wrong call on when to move. We had moved from the top of Stoner to Dover, Ky., following my father on his job as a track maintenance worker on the C&O Railroad.
But before the summer was out he was transferred back to the Fullerton Division, and this time we moved into a house in lower Fullerton, between the railroad and the river, in the flood plain.
NOT TO WORRY
The radio told us the river would crest that night at a level just below the level of our floors. We trusted the prediction and went to bed.
Sometime in the night I came out of sleep to find myself in the arms of my father. He had on hip boots and carried me through a foot of water, out the front door, and across two thick planks reaching from the front porch to the roadway, where a truck waited. All of our belongings had to be carried across those planks and loaded into the truck.
There was no such thing as flood insurance in those days.
We moved into a little red brick at the foot of Stoner Hill. But soon we were moving again, to Ashville, Ohio, following my father’s job.
After a year there, we moved back, this time locating into a cottage in Beattyville, the next street back from where Jerri Cooper lives today.
And there we encountered the unpredictable Ohio again. The river moved up the street until it surrounded the Methodist Church next door. It crept into our yard and through the yard up each side of the house, but still stood a couple of feet below our floors.
My father drove a stake into the yard with black strips of paint a foot apart. He watched this throughout the day as the water moved up, slower and slower all the time. As night fell the water level seemed to be holding almost steady. We went to bed, and I wondered if we would be evacuating again in the middle of the night.
But when morning came we found that the water had barely seeped in on the edge of one floor in the lowest part of the house.
And stopped. By noon it had fallen a few inches.
In late afternoon, as the water continued to recede, the sun came out.
And life on the banks of the river was good again.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.