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15 DEAD IN TWO STATES // Flooding in Ohio Valley deadly

On Saturday, John Ashcraft celebrated his 45th birthday with his wife, four children and three grandchildren. But by early Sunday, Ashcraft recalled Monday, he and his family found themselves "as close to hell as I can imagine."

The family was trapped in the rapidly rising floodwaters that have caused widespread damage and 15 deaths in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio. Seeking to flee this town of 2,400, they headed out in their van, but it stalled in the floodwaters before reaching the bridge over the Licking River. For half an hour, which "seemed like hours," they watched the water steadily rise until they were rescued by an unidentified man in a large pickup truck.

"I was petrified," Ashcraft said. "All I could think of is how do I get my family out of here."

Rain continued to fall throughout the region Monday, promising little relief from the worst flooding since 1964. Forty miles north of here, the Ohio River spilled over its banks in Cincinnati, forcing officials to close a number of roads and call for evacuation of low-lying areas. The Ohio reached more than 59 feet at Cincinnati on Monday, almost 7 feet above flood stage, and a crest of 63 feet was forecast for Wednesday.

As much as 13 inches of rain fell on the region during a 36-hour period over the weekend. State officials Monday confirmed 10 flood-related deaths in Kentucky and five in Ohio.

Few communities were hit harder than Falmouth. The relatively narrow Licking River flooded with terrifying speed beginning Saturday night, forcing the evacuation of virtually the entire town. At its crest, the river reached 52 feet, 24 feet above flood stage, engulfing many homes and businesses in swirling water.

"We lost everything we had," said Jimmy Williams, who sat on a chair outside a shelter at a hilltop high school gymnasium, waiting with his dog, Sandy, and his bird, A.J. They were all he and his wife could get out of their house when Falmouth was inundated.

In the four-state area of Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, 20 deaths were blamed on flooding and tornadoes _ including many who drowned or were washed from their cars _ in addition to the 24 tornado deaths in Arkansas.

In Louisville, crews were closing all 45 gates in the city's flood wall along the Ohio River, which forms Kentucky's 665-mile-long northern border, and were preparing to reinforce them with 120,000 sandbags. Across the river in Indiana, riverfront communities started evacuating.

But the worst damage was in smaller towns like Falmouth, a town of 2,700 about 30 miles southeast of Cincinnati.

Twenty-two miles farther south, Cynthiana was accessible only by a narrow highway running south to Paris, which was beginning to clean up.

About 40 miles south of Louisville, the Rolling Fork river reached a record 53.2 feet Monday and was rising about 3 inches an hour at Boston. Most of the town's 400 residents had left.

_ Information from Washington Post and Associated Press was used in this report.