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NY town responds to deadly flooding

Some Colchester residents still in shock from June storm.


Despite being flooded in the past, residents in this small southern New York town never expected a June storm to set off deadly flash flooding that swamped the area.

"What we thought was just a thunderstorm turned into a massive flood event in a couple of hours," said the Rev. Dale Ashby of Colchester Community United Methodist Church.

"If you saw the stream that flooded, you wouldn't believe it," added the Rev. Nancy Asbury of For Faith Presbyterian Parish in nearby Roscoe. "It's maybe six inches deep normally, but it washed away huge sections of road and trees. I couldn't believe what it looked like when I got there."

The June 19 flash flood that swelled the normally tiny stream left four people dead and two missing. Six homes were destroyed, 12 were severely damaged and more than 30 others sustained some damage. The flooding occurred after 6 to 8 inches of rain drenched the area during a two-hour period.

Asbury said most of the affected residents did not have flood insurance because they did not live in a flood plain.

Despite the area being flooded in past years, the flash flood caught everyone off-guard, Ashby said.

Both Ashby and Asbury were working with community members and outside volunteers to help clean up the damage and debris. Volunteer teams spent the past weeks cleaning out basements and first floors, along with cutting up trees and removing debris from yards. Both pastors visited affected homes to see if their services were needed.

Ashby also worked through the local American Red Cross flood relief center where people could register for assistance. Others in need have been referred by neighbors, or by people working at one home and noticing that the home next door was in serious need.

Asbury said the flooding left behind large amounts of debris and muck. Cars were covered in mud, refrigerators and other large debris were washed into front yards and large trees were knocked down.

Members of Ashby's church have been providing meals for volunteers and residents, cleaning up yards and hauling away trash.

"They're doing whatever they can to help," Ashby said, adding that many affected residents were still in shock.

"Everyone's looking at their places and figuring out what to do and how to put the pieces back together," he said. "Some families have no home left, it was completely destroyed. I think a lot of folks are struggling with the emotional stress of the flood. Many are displaced from their homes now. They're dealing with belongings and cars and things from the house being destroyed. And unfortunately a few families lost loved ones in this flood."

Asbury spoke with a mental health worker in the Binghamton area who helped run a counseling service for residents there affected by flooding in the past year. Asbury said she hoped to bring a similar program to Colchester, especially since some residents have experienced repeated flooding since 2005.

"There's still a lot of pain from the last two years," she said.

In the meantime, support from area residents and volunteer teams has bolstered community spirit. Asbury appealed to her presbytery, which then appealed to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). A grant recently came in to support the recovery - not to mention all the volunteers from Presbyterian churches from within and beyond the presbytery. PDA representatives also called Asbury to offer guidance and support.

"We've gotten wonderful response," Asbury said.

One youth group from Indiana worked three days shoveling mud out of basements. Several teams from Pennsylvania and western New York have been in town to help as well, totaling 80 volunteers from last weekend.

Ashby has received similar response from his United Methodist district and conference, and more volunteer teams were scheduled. The teams have ripped out wet carpet, power-washed basements, moved furniture and more. He is also part of a local group made up of social service agencies and churches that is looking at the long-term recovery. The county set up the group after flooding last year in Walton.

Ashby said he welcomed the outside support and noted that the community was also pulling together in the face of yet another flood.

"This is certainly one of the strengths of our community," he said. "We've been through numerous floods and people always seem to respond to help each other out."

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