The Flood of '97 Wreaks Havoc on Ohio River Valley Libraries

By Eberhart, George M. | American Libraries, April 1997 | Go to article overview

The Flood of '97 Wreaks Havoc on Ohio River Valley Libraries


Eberhart, George M., American Libraries


The extraordinary surge of the Ohio River and its tributaries in the first two weeks of March shut down entire towns, caused multiple millions of dollars in damage, and left at least 26 dead in a four-state area. With three major exceptions, and one instance where the staffs quick thinking averted a complete disaster, libraries in the region escaped with relatively minor damage.

By far the worst casualty was the Pendleton County Public Library in Falmouth, Kentucky, where on March 2 the swollen Licking River turned the town into a sea of rooftops. Library Director Janie Harter told American Libraries the water quickly rose to a level of four feet above the building's ground level. After the waters receded a week later, Harter could salvage only about 400 of the 28,000 volumes in the collection, except for an unknown quantity in circulation to patrons and local schools.

Many people helped Hatter with the clean-up operations - volunteers from local churches, school children, and couples from Cincinnati and Fort Thomas. Since no wheelbarrows were available, books and debris had to be carried out in garbage cans.

"Everything they touched disintegrated," Dalarna Breetz, director of the Field Services Division of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, told AL. "The furniture is buckled, they have no paper, no pencils or pens. They are just literally wiped out."

Joyce Hoffman, regional librarian for Northern Kentucky, told AL that the library board had recently planned an expansion for the 1975 building. "They just paid their mortgage off, but they had no flood insurance," she said. "The agents told them they didn't need it."

Harter said the library would be operating out of two parked bookmobiles until the building can be sanitized and renovated. She estimated the loss to be approximately $750,000. "We can't use any book donations right now," she told AL, "because we still have no idea what titles are left. But cash donations are more than welcome."

Close call in Ohio

Nineteen miles away at New Richmond, Ohio, where the waters of the Ohio River were creeping up to the flood stage, Operations Manager Martha Van Pelt and Facilities Manager Dave Mezack worked frantically to save 17,000 books and furniture in the threatened branch of the Claremont County Public Library. …

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