NY still recovering from '06 floods

Counties still need volunteers, funds.

BY HEATHER MOYER | CONKLIN, N.Y. | April 23, 2007

Volunteers tear out walls in a flood-damaged home in Broome County. More volunteers are needed to continue the flood recovery in Southern Tier of New York.
Credit: Heather Moyer

Volunteers and funding remain major needs as the Southern Tier region of New York continues recovery efforts from last year's flooding, disaster responders report.

"Now with spring coming, people are looking to rebuild. We're going to have several hundred families needing rebuilds," said Kevin Page, project director of Broome Area Networking in Disaster (BAND). "There are still quite a few people out there who need assistance."

BAND is the long-term recovery agency serving Broome County, an area in south central New York just north of the Pennsylvania border that was devastated by two floods in 2006. The floods impacted several other counties as well, including Tioga and Chenango. Organizations in those counties are also working to help affected families.

BAND was working closely with the Conklin Presbyterian Church Flood Relief Center to staff a warehouse with supplies as well as to recruit and put volunteers in the right place. Teams from Mennonite Disaster Service and other churches and organizations have been working with the church to repair homes. Despite the influx of volunteers and funding that have come in since the floods, more is needed, responders said.

"We are running out of money," said Dottie Baer, coordinator of the Flood Relief Center. "We're scrambling to buy building supplies. We also need skilled volunteers since so many home repairs remain."

Baer said volunteers continue to do tear out work on homes that have remained untouched since the floods. Many are full of mold and some have the family still living there, not knowing what to do.

"We're finding some older people who didn't know what to do, so they just left it all," she said. "Some are living on the second floor because the first is damaged."

In Tioga County, Dave Woodburn said their long-term recovery committee narrowed down the families in need to some 550 that had "more than minor damage." The Tioga Area Recovery Partnership (TARP) is working one-on-one with 35 families, but more continue to come forward.

"We're still finding new people," said Woodburn, whose own home was being repaired after flood damage. "Some ran out of money to continue their repairs. You either had enough insurance or you didn't."

Some Tioga County families who left their houses untended since the flooding were now coming forward, said Angela Klopf, director of the Catholic Charities Tioga Outreach Center and a caseworker with TARP.

"In June they were overwhelmed and they didn't know where to start," she said. "They didn't do much, and then the winter came, and they still weren't able to do anything. They're still displaced. Now that winter's ended they're thinking, 'What will I do?' So we're getting these new people who need help and haven't touched their homes."

The Chenango County recovery committee - called the Chenango Area Recovery Team (CART) - has worked with more than 160 families and continues to have more come forward.

"Funding is the biggest need - especially since we're eight to nine months removed from the flood," said Derek Stratton, chairman of the group and educator for Catholic Charities in the county.

Recovery organization officials worry that people are forgetting about their neighbors in need.

"We had five towns hit (hard)," Klopf said. "But if you don't live in that part of the county you may not see the damaged homes. The water lines are still there on these homes. It goes up to more than 5 feet high on some."

Mitigation is a major part of the recovery. BAND's Kevin Page said his organization was helping people move things out of their basements as well as assisting with raising homes if necessary.

"We're also helping people move," he said. "If they rebuild, we want to move them to higher ground when they do. We don't want them building back in the flood zone. We want to make sure people in the flood zones are taken care of and don't have to go through another round of flooding."

In the hard hit Broome County towns of Conklin and Kirkwood, Baer said some families were getting buy-outs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She said more than 70 have been approved and another 30 are awaiting a decision.

She said many homes have been abandoned as families wait for a buy-out or because they cannot afford to rebuild.

With springtime rains coming, families are anxious.

"People are extremely nervous this spring," Baer said. "We've already had people evacuated twice there due to an ice jam and high water, but thankfully nothing happened. But the rain makes everybody very nervous, and I guess it always will from now on."

Baer said the Flood Relief Center staff still goes door-to-door on occasion to reach families who have yet to ask for help, or have previously refused it. Some have said they're fine, but they're not, she noted.

"Some say they can take care of themselves, but we know they need help," she said. "So we go knocking on doors. A lot end up crying (when we talk). We'll stop people on the street to see how they are and they'll start crying."

For those families the center has helped, many have given back. Baer said some volunteer in the office or rebuild other homes. Some will let on if they have a neighbor who's still in need.

Baer added that the help the center provides is not always a complete rebuild.

"Sometimes just getting them started is all the difference, then they can say, 'Oh yes, it can be done.' Some families have been working all alone this whole time. They'll find us and we'll help them with something small and then they'll go on by themselves. It's like all they needed was a boost," she said.

Llewellyn Zehr, the Mennonite Disaster Service project director for the Conklin site, has noticed that from the families his teams have helped.

"The families really do appreciate it," he said. "Some of them are pretty much frustrated to the point where they don't know where they're at.

"In a day's time we can change the looks of their house and they then have the hope to move forward themselves. Sometimes we start and they finish, they say they want to do it themselves then so they have some ownership in it," Zehr said.

For other families, helping them get new furniture or appliances is all that is required. Baer said she had one young couple come in recently whose home was destroyed.

"They had to move elsewhere and were renting furniture," she said. "When they saw the furniture we had available to give them in our warehouse, they were so excited."

Stratton said his organization was providing appliances to Chenango County families in need. It also provides building supplies so that families can stretch their insurance dollars as far as possible.

Klopf said TARP and Catholic Charities in Tioga County helps families with everything from home repairs to smaller needs. Some have been helped with rental assistance for temporary housing, others with furniture and still others with money to get things like towels or other home necessities.

Donations and volunteering are the best way to help the families, she said, and anyone wanting lend a hand should call.

"There is always some way to help."

Related Topics:

What makes a community resilient?

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

More links on Disaster Recovery


Related Links:

Conklin Flood Relief Center volunteer listing

United Way of Broome County

Contact information for Angela Klopf and the Tioga Outreach Center


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