Families cope with flood issues

People still seeking professional help for stress.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BINGHAMTON, N.Y. | April 5, 2007


While physical signs of a flood, such as debris on this street in Delaware County, have since disappeared, emotional scars still remain for families.
Credit: Heather Moyer

Mental health counselors in New York have helped more than 3,000 people affected by the flooding in Broome, Tioga and Delaware counties in the past year - and residents continue coming forward for help.

"There's a lot of concern about spring flooding," said Boni Gross, director of Project Recovery. "People are very nervous about that."

The Project Recovery program is designed to help residents cope with the emotional and mental challenges brought on by devastating flooding last summer and in November, Gross said.

Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed by both floods that ravaged communities big and small, including Binghamton, Endicott, Conklin and Deposit.

Gross said high stress levels continue for the affected families.

"Some people are still not back in their homes, and there is a lot of frustration in terms of things not happening the way they thought they would," she said. "Many are still in (Federal Emergency Management Agency) trailers. Others thought they were fine and had gotten their houses back together quickly - except now the mold is returning."

Project Recovery, formed last July with funding from FEMA, is operated by the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier. Gross said the first three months of funding covered counselors going door-to-door in Broome and Tioga counties.

"We talked to people about their flood issues and let them tell us their stories," she said.

In October, the group applied for and received funding for an additional nine months.

"We're now also in the presentation and community education focus," Gross said. "We're getting out to the masses and not just the individuals."

Project Recovery's staff is helping people understand the signs of stress and how to know when more help is needed. Gross said that the mental state after a disaster is very similar to the grieving process.

"It is like dealing with a death, where there are ups and downs and sometimes you go backwards and sometimes you go forward," she said. "There has been an awful lot of stress in their lives and many don't realize that it's flood-related. You might have kids acting up, adults arguing or not being able to concentrate - and that could be built up over time from the flood."

Gross added that children's stress can manifest itself in different ways, including acting up in school, being very clingy with their parents, not wanting to leave the house when it rains and having nightmares.

"Children feel stress in their whole bodies, and they also listen to their parents," she said. "Even if the parents aren't talking specifically about the flooding, kids know what's going on."

Project Recovery counselors encourage parents to talk with their children about the flood and any problems they might be having. Some children lost their homes or their pets and they need to be able to discuss it and express their fears, Gross said.

Counselors also teach adults valuable coping skills.

"We also talk about making sure everyone has a plan, you know, what have you done to help yourself in case this does happen again," Gross said. "It's about mitigation and being ready, and things they can do so that they don't have to be stressed out if flooding hits again. It's so they can move on and stop focusing on it because they've planned."

Gross said the threat of another flood is still on people's minds.

"Every time it rains, people get afraid," she said. "They're out there watching the rivers. Some of them even go out nightly to check the river levels."

Getting help and having a plan helps stop the fear, she said.

New cases continue coming in to Project Recovery for help. Gross said that may be because some people who were displaced are just now returning.

Project Recovery also works closely with the local long-term disaster recovery organizations in the counties.


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Related Links:

Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier

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