My Town Monday: The Flood Of ’11 Vs. The Flood Of ’97

This year, the Ohio River spilled out of its banks, the result of an unusually snowy winter this year. I say unusually snowy because, since my arrival here in 1991, heavy snow has been a sporadic occurrence in December and January, with February getting most of the snow.  When the early winter months are unusually cold, February becomes Cincinnati’s rainy season.

Not this year.  This year, the snow began almost on Thanksgiving and made frequent visits every few days since then. So when March and its warm weather rolled around, the ground was already saturated. The most recent snow and the rains that melted it had no place to go.

So the Ohio River swelled and is still swelling as I type this on Saturday. It’s big news here, eclipsed only by the enormous quake that just hit Japan.

But is it that bad? I suppose if you live in the East End or out in New Richmond, where many houses are up on stilts, it is a big deal.  So yes, it’s bad. US 52, known in these parts as Kellogg Avenue when it heads east past Delta Avenue, is largely a lake from Columbia-Tusculum out to New Richmond and beyond.

Worse, however, was the Flood of 1997.  That year, I delivered pizza at night for a place in Hyde Park.  East End was part of our territory.

These is nothing more unnerving than rolling along Eastern Avenue, normally too far from the river to see any flooding, only to find National Guard trucks blocking the roads to the south because the water lapping at the southern side of Eastern. Riverfront Stadium still stood at that point, and the city put down the flood walls when most of nearby Sawyer Point disappeared under water.  Lunken Airfield, where flooding prompted the construction of the current airport in Northern Kentucky and the Beechmont Levy system, put up its flood gate for the first time in decades.  The last time the Ohio had reached that far inland, all air service to Cincinnati ceased until the waters receded.  This time, Vice President Gore used Lunken when he came to Cincinnati on a visit to the disaster site. (Note to the current and future vice presidents: We really hate it when you use Lunken to come to the city. Your motorcade gridlocks the entire east side. Could you please use CVG like Messrs. Clinton and Bush? k thx bye.)

In 1997, it took two weeks to reopen US 52, which was closed for at least fifteen miles.  It threatened River Road, the main drag along the Ohio on the city’s west side, and River Road sits on a flood wall. In East End, people who lived on the hills overlooking the river took in families who lived on the river.  At the river’s crest, even Columbia Parkway, built partly in response to the flood of 1937, had issues, and it was the only route from the eastern suburbs to downtown, other than 471 in Northern Kentucky.

So will this flood be as dramatic? The other night, a New Richmond resident was interviewed. He shrugged it off and considered it life on the river. His was one of the many houses moved up onto stilts after the 97 flood.

More at the My Town Monday blog.

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