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'Secondary disaster' in NY

In the midst of the holiday season, flood damage is still burdening hundreds of people in Broome County, New York.

BY SUSAN KIM | BROOME COUNTY, N.Y. | December 18, 2006

"The look on some faces is just tragic."

—Greg Jenkins

In the midst of the holiday season, flood damage is still burdening hundreds of people in Broome County, New York.

Water inundated hundreds of homes in June and then again in November.

Now the number-one need is furnaces, said Greg Jenkins, case management coordinator for the Broome Area Networking in Disaster (BAND). BAND comprises faith-based and community-based groups that are trying to address unmet needs and help people plan their long-term recovery.

"Furnaces have not been replaced, and they continue to break down on a regular basis," said Jenkins. Some were destroyed immediately by floodwaters, while others gradually corroded from water damage and are just now malfunctioning.

"And the weather is getting cold and wet," said Jenkins. BAND is attempting to offer both financial assistance and help installing new furnaces - but the group needs more monetary donations and more volunteers.

"Finances and help are two commodities we are very, very short on," said Jenkins. "We have ended up in this crunch, a secondary disaster."

The holiday season, instead of being a time of joy, has heightened the stress for many flood survivors. "The stress level is just exponentiating day by day. When you couple that with the holidays - people lost their decorations, the history of their own family. And many of them can't be in their own homes. The look on some faces is just tragic. You can see the emptiness at a time of year when hope is supposed to abound."

And the county is not talking about a few dozen people. Jenkins estimates BAND will provide case management services for a minimum of 600 people on a long-term basis. The county had 4,800 registrations for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance.

People who had damage during the June floods are eligible to receive individual assistance from FEMA. The agency is still reviewing whether to offer individual assistance for the November floods. Jenkins and others are urging federal officials to expedite the decision so people can start receiving assistance.

While some people were hit by repeat flooding - both in June and November - others were hit for the first time in November. Going back to "square one" in terms of recovery has added to the stress not only for flood survivors but for caregivers as well, said Jenkins.

Still, he said, even as the stress grows, he sees the community sticking together. "This has really brought back to light the word neighbor and what it really means. We're out from behind our TVs and our computers. We come out to the curb and we say, hey there's people out here."

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