CINCINNATI — People in waterfront businesses and homes kept an eye on the rising Ohio River or began heading to higher ground Friday as weather forecasters projected it soon would reach levels not seen since the region’s deadly floods two decades ago.
The National Weather Service said the river topped 56 feet (17.07 meters) Friday in the Cincinnati area, 4 feet (1.22 meters) above flood stage. Forecasters expect it to reach 59.4 feet (18.11 meters) by Tuesday morning. That would be the highest since 64.7 feet (19.72 meters) during 1997 floods that claimed more than two dozen lives, most of them in Kentucky.
Restaurants and other business and recreation spots from Cincinnati for miles east along the river closed, as water cut off roadways and swamped parks. Forecasters warned people living along rivers, streams and creeks in southern Ohio, southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky to be especially cautious and prepared for rapid rises.
“We’re trying to keep spirits up,” said Bob Lees, owner of Front Street Cafe in New Richmond, Ohio, more than 20 miles (32.19 kilometers) southeast of Cincinnati. He said the opening song picked for Friday night’s music was “Cry Me A River.”
New Richmond’s village council declared a state of emergency, telling the 2,600 residents to comply with instructions from emergency personnel. The mayor also urged residents to secure property, make living arrangements for themselves and their pets, and to pay close attention to forecasts.
Clermont County authorities said local police, fire and other emergency agencies would open a command center Saturday at New Richmond’s middle school, and that the Red Cross would open a shelter later Saturday at the high schools. There also are plans to open a pet shelter.
Lees said dinner and entertainment would go on Friday night as scheduled, but on Saturday he expects to follow others in the village who are “packing it in” and moving to higher ground. He said he’s gotten several offers from people with trucks to help. New Richmond schools announced that student groups were available to help villagers and churches evacuate.
“It’s neighbor helping neighbor; that’s the way river towns are,” Lees said.
NWS forecaster Kristen Cassady, in Wilmington, Ohio, said multiple factors are contributing, starting with steady rains, heavy at times, projected through Saturday night.
“We continue to be concerned,” she said. “This pattern has been one that has created repeated rounds of rain.”
Cold winter ground and lack of ve
getation this time of year don’t allow soaking up much rainfall, she said.
Forecasters expect significant flooding over the next few days, leaving much of Ohio Route 52 covered with water from Cincinnati to New Richmond; widespread basement flooding in low-lying areas, and high water in the Coney Island amusement park and at Riverbend concert venues.
Forecasters were also monitoring conditions at the Scioto River, Great Miami and other river areas across the region.
The Ohio National Guard said Friday it activated some 40 soldiers from the 1191st Engineering Company to raise floodgates along the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio, and work with Scioto County emergency management and the city flood division. Several of the soldiers live and work in Portsmouth, more than 100 miles (160.93 kilometers) southeast of Cincinnati.
Farther east along the river, the city of East Liverpool, Ohio, advised people living in flood-prone areas to find another place to stay by Sunday night, WYTV reported . The small city is some 40 miles (64.37 kilometers) northwest of Pittsburgh.
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