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Volunteers needed for NY floods

Presidential declaration announced as response continues to August flooding

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | BALTIMORE | September 8, 2009

A Presidential disaster declaration was announced last week for western New York State to assist in State and local recovery efforts in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie Counties struck by severe storms and flooding in early August.

Excessive rain Aug. 8-10 in Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties in western New York caused creeks to flood their banks and caused heavy damages in Silver Creek, Gowanda and Springville, as well as in countless smaller communities.

A trailer park in Silver Creek, NY, was completely destroyed, 35 trailers were washed away. In Gowanda, NY, two men were killed. One 80-year-old man drowned in the flood and another died of a heart attack before emergency personnel could reach him.

Carl Chamberland of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) said, “When the floodwaters cleared, it was not unusual to find four or more inches of mud left.”

Complicating volunteer response efforts, the mud itself is polluted.

The Rev. Rebecca Ward, the supervising pastor for five small United Methodist churches in Gowanda, explained, “The mud has been declared toxic in Gowanda, so the mud has to be moved completely out of the area. They’re loading up the mud on dump trucks and moving it.”

“The mud has been pretty well moved out of most homes, but the next phase is deconstruction so we can begin reconstructing the homes,” she said.

Faith-based relief organizations; including Church World Service (CWS), (UMCOR), Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), and Episcopal Relief and Development have responded with clean up kits and health kits.

“We are still looking for volunteers for the first round of clean up and tear outs,” said Chamberland.

Samaritan’s Help and Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) are both local social service organizations that have also been contributing a great deal of help during this disaster.

“Right now we are still working on mops,” said Fred Johnson of Love INC. “We’re about a week or two weeks away from the bigger appliances; there is a large need for industrial strength dehumidifiers.”

“If we don’t dry the basements out then we end up in the same place we started,” said Johnson.

Ward said, “15 families’ requests for health kits and cleaning have been completed, but there are many more families in need, and there are even more that don’t realize that help is available.”

Ward encourages, “Look for help even if you are not someone who normally does. Just because some homes weren’t hit as hard as others doesn’t mean they weren’t affected.”

The American Red Cross, Southwestern NY Chapter has seen approximately 335 clients apply for disaster relief assistance. In addition, several home visits have been conducted to reach those who are unable to get to the local family assistance centers.

Western New York students are expected to start school on schedule despite ongoing clean up from flooding in early August.

“Taking everything into consideration, and based upon what we know today, school will start on schedule. The first day of classes is September 3rd. Many parents need the relief from childcare and young people need the structured activities that our public schools can provide for them,” according to Gowanda Central School District officials.

Approximately one third of the homes in Gowanda were severely damaged and 17 were condemned, leaving many families of the Gowanda School District homeless.

Damage to the school buildings was minimal and officials said, “Since this disaster began, we have been trying to restore a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible."


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