Area addresses needs, preparation

Some Westchester County , N.Y., residents still in need after spring flooding.

BY HEATHER MOYER | MAMARONECK, N.Y. | September 12, 2007

The bottom floor of this Mamaroneck home has been torn out after flooding hit the neighborhood.
Credit: Heather Moyer/DNN

Piles of water-logged belongings lined the streets of many Mamaroneck neighborhoods immediately after the flooding. Months later, some residents still haven't cleaned out their once-flooded basements.
Credit: Heather Moyer/DNN

Nearly 100 cases remain for two organizations working on the long-term recovery in Westchester County, N.Y., after severe flooding in the spring. As the organizations move forward with the casework, getting residents prepared for future disasters was also being addressed.

The Westchester Interfaith Interagency Network for Disaster and Emergency Recovery (WINDER) and the Hispanic Resource Center (HRC) in the city of Mamaroneck were still working with 37 and 48 cases, respectively. The two organizations work closely with each other, with faith groups and with other agencies around the county to meet the needs of residents still recovering.

Andraya Dolbee, case coordinator for WINDER, said residents she was helping are mostly elderly or coping with special needs. Some were just coming forward now with basements still in need of major cleanup work.

"These are groups of people who maybe are physically unable to get into their basements, or maybe they're in poor health or suffering from sociological problems like poverty or mental health issues, so the flood hit them at a deeper level," Dolbee said.

Mariana Boneo of the Hispanic Resource Center said many of her cases were renters who have not been able to find help anywhere else. Many lost all their belongings to the flood and the center was helping them secure furniture for their new housing from partner organization Furniture Sharehouse.

"This flood certainly brought the issue of the lack of affordable housing to light," Boneo said. "The needs remaining are for housing in general, housing repairs and furniture."

Boneo and Dolbee were finding local volunteer teams for the basement cleaning and home repairs. Teams from local businesses and churches pitch in, as well as groups from disaster relief organizations such as the Tzu Chi Foundation. Funding from Episcopal Relief and Development helped aid the WINDER cases.

HRC has also referred some clients to mental health agencies. Both Boneo and Dolbee have seen people's pain up close.

"People were almost totally paralyzed by this," Boneo said. "They saw their life flooded away, and (getting help) was cumbersome at the time, particularly for those in the shelter until they found housing."

Dolbee agreed and said the mental health effects linger. She recently watched one resident cry as sanitation workers removed a pile of destroyed belongings cleaned out from the basement.

HRC and WINDER also help residents navigate the extensive paperwork in applying for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration and other local government aid. Dolbee was assisting residents eligible for county government grants available to those who need extensive renovation and mold abatement work that untrained volunteers cannot do.

"The process can be tricky, but they're moving through it," Dolbee said of the affected residents. "I'm not sure I could make it through the FEMA process on my own either."

Dolbee added that the community at all levels worked together well after the disaster, it just took a while for all the available long-term aid to come forward and for its application process to be understood.

WINDER board member Dave Currie said being ready for the next disaster was now another focal point.

"The next plan is to begin the process of forming community organizations active in disaster across the county," said Currie, also a senior director for the United Way of Westchester and Putnam counties. "We're beginning the education process as part one. Part two will be facilitating the training of caseworkers."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief may be brought in to assist with those trainings, Currie added.

Church and faith groups in the county were being contacted for the disaster preparedness process as well. Currie said as WINDER and HRC reached out to local congregations for help with specific residents' needs, that "created a slow but growing momentum of interest."

Dolbee said having the right groups in the right places will smooth out the process when disaster strikes again.

"It was a lot of work for us this time around in figuring out what (aid) to apply for and who to apply to, and that comes down to preparedness," she said. "We have to have the machine better oiled so help can kick in more quickly next time."

The Rev. Deborah Tammearu, pastor of Mamaroneck's St. Thomas Church and WINDER's president, said the spring floods were a real wake-up call.

"This was scary enough to get people's attention and scary enough to get people looking at preparation," she said.

WINDER members plan to meet with county emergency management officials next week and they continue to reach out to community and faith groups who want to be involved.

Boneo said she wants Westchester County residents to know that funds were still available to anyone if they continue to have flood-related needs.

"This disaster hit people who never thought they would find themselves in a situation of need," Boneo explained. "It hit working families and property owners - some who were comfortable in life but did not have the funds to replace all they lost. Frequently, they are the least likely to seek help and these are the people we really want to reach out to."

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St. Thomas Church - Mamaroneck, N.Y.


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