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Families return to Falmouth as Licking River forecasted to reach minor flood stage

Minor damage reported as some roads flood
Posted at 2:15 PM, May 19, 2020

FALMOUTH, Ky. — Despite fears of a looming disaster, homes near the Licking River in Falmouth got nothing close to the major flooding predicted for Wednesday.

Families in Falmouth can now return to their homes and business can resume in the area after heavy rainfall caused some homes to evacuate Tuesday.

According Facebook posts from the Pendleton County Emergency Management, the Licking River was initially expected to swell to over 40 feet Wednesday morning, but before noon, that number dropped to 34.6 feet. This puts the river in the "minor flood" stage.

Pendleton County Emergency Management Director Mike Moore said 101 people evacuated, many moving everything they own. On Wednesday, he was relieved to call them back home.

"Absolute relief, because you only have just a short window when they predict something of that magnitude," Moore said.

Volunteers helped nursing home residents evacuate Tuesday. Because of coronavirus, the Red Cross could not shelter everyone together, so many spent the night in nearby hotels in Grant County.

In the historic 1997 floods, Falmouth homeowner Lee Workman and his family lost everything as floodwaters ultimately killed five people. Now, he worries how neighbors will react next time flooding is in the forecast.

"In the future, people will hesitate to listen to the authorities down here." Workman said. "They're going to be gun shy of what's really going to happen, and that's not a good thing."

Due to the flooding concerns across the Tri-state, Duke Energy disconnected natural gas service to approximately 250 customers in Falmouth, plus nearly 30 customers in Reading, Ohio.

Five Pendleton County roads remain covered in water, leaving some neighborhoods isolated. Managers hope waters recede in those areas by Thursday.

Ohio River Flood of 1997 seen from the air

Flooding fears sparked evacuations

Much of Angela Gillispie’s home would have been be submerged according to the initial river estimates. She watched the water rise during the day and managed to get her family to a safe place.

“They did give plenty of warning,” she said.

Thankfully, it's not supposed to be as bad as the 1997 flood, when the Licking River rose to 52 feet and 80% of Falmouth was under water. Five people were killed.

RELATED: More videos, story about the 1997 flood.

Falmouth resident Rob Yelton was a police officer working that day.

“It just devastated the city – 80% underwater,” he said. “I think ’97 taught us all a very rough lesson of what mother nature can do.”

Jennifer Shelton’s apartment building was hit hard in the flood of 1997.

“It’s time to get out,” she said. “I don't want to be wound up in the middle of the night going and getting up and stepping in a gigantic nothing but water.”

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, evacuees are encouraged to stay with relatives or in hotels if possible. The Pendleton County High School’s two gymnasiums will serve as a shelter for those who cannot make other arrangements.

Red Cross and Pendleton County Health Department workers will be on hand at the shelter to ensure safe social distancing takes place.

Shelton is staying at the school until other arrangements can be made.

“As long as my family is safe (and) I'm okay everything else can be replaced,” Shelton said.