We might be getting fewer volunteers than what we really need.
Four western New York counties have been declared federal disaster areas in the wake of a snowstorm that spawned lengthy power outages and flooding that damaged homes.
The counties are Erie, Genesee, Orleans and Niagara.
The declaration was made for both public assistance - commonly money for damaged roads and bridges - and individual assistance, which opens the way for individuals to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds.
New Yorkers were unsure whether they would receive an individual assistance declaration, and responders reported this week they were pleased that the door was opened for people whose homes were damaged. The surprise snowstorm Oct. 12-13 dumped two feet of snow and caused nearly 400,000 people to lose power for several days.
Faith-based organizations met this week to talk about a coordinated response to unmet needs. The group will meet again next week to discuss needs in not only the declared counties but in outlying areas that did not receive the federal disaster declaration.
Several faith-based groups were considering the possibility of sending in volunteer teams to help people repair damaged homes. Many of them already have teams working in the state in areas such as Binghamton, which were devastated by flooding earlier this year.
Sometimes it's tough to attract volunteers to western New York in the wintertime, said Church World Service Disaster Response and Recovery Liaison Joann Hale. "Our snow is going to be flying very shortly. We might be getting fewer volunteers than what we really need," she said.
One of the biggest immediate needs is ensuring people have enough food. There are still some households without electricity, and food pantries are trying to keep stocked.
This is a disaster in which it's difficult to immediately quantify the extent of damage, reported responders, but as FEMA registrations come in the concentration of needs will become more clear. "I don't have anything statistically tight until we get registrations," reported a federal official involved in the recovery. "Then you know where the damage is."
Door-to-door assessments are tougher in rural areas, agreed Hale. "Many of those small towns are farming communities and houses are separated," she said. "There's a house here and a house there. Some of these areas are not very populated area at all."
Hale reported that the faith community was planning to reach out to rural areas, as well as to the significant Native American population in the region.
Meanwhile, responders urged people with damage to call FEMA and begin the registration process. "Even people outside the declared counties should call," pointed out the federal official, "because sometimes that builds up a case for extending the declaration."
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