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Flood waters gone, gritty decisions to be made in Rotterdam Junction

Houses with most damage may be facing demolition

Tuesday, September 6, 2011
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People clearing out houses on Main Street in Rotterdam Junction on Monday, September 5, 2011.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
People clearing out houses on Main Street in Rotterdam Junction on Monday, September 5, 2011.

— It is hard for Jonathan Gerardo to believe that the house he grew up in with his six siblings may have to be torn down after last week’s flood.

Friends and family worked all weekend to clean out the Main Street house owned by Gerardo’s father, Ben. More than six feet of water had filled the home and was there for about five days until fire officials from Mariaville were able to pump out the water on Saturday.

Practically everything in the house was thrown out onto the curb to be picked up by dump trucks provided by the county. An inch of mud coated the floors and outside steps. The first two floors were gutted to their frames, waiting to be sprayed to prevent mold.

“We’re trying to figure out now what will be more cost effective for him,” said Jon Gerardo. “We don’t know if we should rebuild it or demolish it.”

Ben Gerardo, a math teacher at Schalmont High school, lived in the house for 34 years with his wife, Gail, who died last summer. He still lived there with his two daughters and had just paid off the mortgage in February.

“I haven’t yet decided if that’s a good thing or a bad thing,” he said with a laugh.

He was one of the first in the Junction to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help and had already been visited to make sure his foundation was safe.

Ben Gerardo no longer has flood insurance, but did with his mortgage. When it was paid off, he didn’t renew his plan, thinking a flood was unlikely. Among the items lost were the 42-inch television his children gave him for Father’s Day, the furniture he just purchased months before, his collection of comic books, and most of the pictures in the house.

Only the items from two back bedrooms upstairs could be saved, some framed pictures on the wall, including a collage of his wife, and some DVDs.

Jon Gerardo and his wife now have six family members living in their apartment in lower Rotterdam Junction. He said the place is cramped, but they are happy to help.

“I’m just glad they’re nearby,” said Ben Gerardo.

The story of the Gerardos was the same for many families throughout the Junction on Monday.

Curbs were filled with treasured possessions turned into trash, waiting to be picked up for a trip to the dump. Groups of people worked in the mud and rain to get the area organized for FEMA officials in the days ahead.

Patrick and Mary Lou Coppolo spent the day ripping out their kitchen walls. The cellar had been cleaned out the day before.

“I feel guilt at times that we were so lucky, when other people will lose their homes,” she said. “Our home can be fixed, and others’ can’t.”

About 10 inches of water ruined the Coppolos’ basement, which will need to be replaced along with portions of the kitchen. They don’t have flood insurance, but Mary Lou Coppolo said she couldn’t complain after seeing what other people are going through.

Terrie McCloud, a Rotterdam Junction resident for 53 years, said she doesn’t believe the community will ever look the same.

“It’s sad to think about,” she said.

Her home was unaffected by the storm, so she was happy to lend a hand to family members in lower parts of the Junction.

The Rotterdam Junction Fire Department was the main command post for fire officials, police officers and emergency medical technicians. It also took in donations and provided food, while having people available to help with federal aid questions.

Captain Gregg DeBraccio said the station was basically working like a hospital triage unit, matching people up with volunteers or items to meet their needs. He has no idea how many they’ve helped so far.

“We haven’t been keeping count, and we don’t really care. We just want to make sure everyone that walks in gets their needs met,” he said.

Residents like the Gerardos and the Coppolos were thankful for the work of so many volunteers and the donations that had been received.

“I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life,” Mary Lou Coppolo said.

DeBraccio said help was pouring in from everywhere.

“It’s unbelievable and humbling,” he said.

Hundreds of meals have been provided from the American Red Cross, The Bad Pig, the Mallozzi family and Wagon Train BBQ, along with numerous donations from the community.

U.S. Senator Charles F. Schumer also found the amount of volunteers remarkable when he visited Rotterdam Junction on Sunday. He said he saw hundreds of volunteers helping to clean up the neighborhood, take in donations and provide food.

Schumer pledged to get the county more federal aid, including public assistance for not-for-profits, funds that Ellen Brown desperately needs.

Brown is president of the Rotterdam Challengers Baseball League, a league for children and adults with disabilities. She said the fields on Putnam Street were completely destroyed, along with the concession stand and all of the league’s equipment that had been stored inside.

Within the past two years, Brown estimated about $40,000 had been put into upgrades there, and all of that was now lost.

“Everything’s gone,” she said. “I was told I would have little chance of getting aid, but I’m still going to try.”

DeBraccio said the fire officials are now working to prepare for more flooding as rain continues to fall throughout the week and ground waters begin to rise.

“It’s not draining properly because there’s no place for it to go. We’re pumping out cellars and it comes right back, so we’re working to get the water transported to the canal,” he said.

Ben Gerardo isn’t worried about more rain.

“It can’t do any more damage than what’s already been done,” he said.

To continue the cleanup effort, Route 5S in Rotterdam Junction will be closed to all but local traffic from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Wednesday. Those wishing to make donations during those times can do so at the Jefferson Elementary School in Rotterdam.

 
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