Irene: Volunteers still needed for flood cleanup efforts
Organizers expect more help in spring
SCHOHARIE COUNTY Five months after the flooding caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee, volunteers are still trekking out to heavily damaged areas to help with cleanup and rebuilding.
There aren’t quite as many of them as there were right after the storms, but they’re still coming, and those involved in volunteer efforts say they expect an uptick in the spring.
Volunteer coordinators say there are jobs available for everyone who wants to help but also cite a growing need for skilled workers. In particular, there’s a demand for electricians, plumbers and people to put up drywall, as well as supplies that can support those efforts, such as drywall screws, paint trays and rollers.
Many homes are in the rebuilding phase, but others are still being mucked out and some haven’t been dealt with at all, often because their owners have decided to sell or because a flood insurance settlement has been slow in coming.
The number of volunteers dipped during the holidays, but has started to come back, coordinators said.
“With the holidays and colder weather, there was a decline in volunteers,” said the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, who chairs Schoharie Area Long Term, or SALT, and serves as pastor of Schoharie Reformed Church. “But we are, at the same time, gearing up for lots of groups from outside of the area coming for spring and summer. We invite anyone and everyone to come, as the ongoing effort is going to take years.”
SALT, which brings together various flood recovery groups in Schoharie County and serves as a kind of regional coalition, recently received United Way funding to hire three people to focus on what is expected to be a multi-year rebuilding process.
Some people might be under the impression that there’s no longer a need for volunteers, which isn’t the case. Nathan Mandsager, who coordinates the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, said the coalition recently saw an increase in volunteers after an article about the group appeared in The Daily Gazette. Many of these volunteers told Mandsager that they didn’t realize there was still so much work to be done.
The Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County is focused on rebuilding in Rotterdam Junction, Scotia, Glenville and other hard hit areas. Headquartered in the rectory of St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction, the group estimates that there are more than 50 homes that need to be rebuilt or rehabbed.
Mandsager said that volunteer effort has gotten more organized, and a concerted effort is being made to ensure that volunteers are being used effectively.
The mild winter has been a big help.
“The weather hasn’t turned terribly bad,” Mandsager said. “Every day there are at least a handful of volunteers who go out.” He said the Flood Recovery Coalition expects the number of volunteers to continue to pick up, and the group is planning spring cleaning projects.
Shortly after the flood, a new, citizen-led nonprofit organization called Schoharie Recovery was founded with the mission of rebuilding flood-stricken areas within the Schoharie Central School District, which includes Schoharie, Gallupville, Esperance and Central Bridge.
Sarah Goodrich, who coordinates Schoharie Recovery volunteer efforts, said the group is beginning to look beyond its core area and think about sending volunteers to other hard-hit areas, such as Middleburgh and North Blenheim. This doesn’t mean that the need for volunteers within the Schoharie Central School District is diminishing; Goodrich estimates that only 10 percent of displaced residents have returned home, and the village of Schoharie is still noticeably less populated.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in areas, but there’s a lot of standstill, too,” Goodrich said. “The need continues, and we still need groups of all kinds.” She said there’s recently been an increase in volunteer groups coming to the area, but not individuals.
The volunteer command station is manned by Goodrich and other volunteers and is based at Schoharie Reformed Church on Main Street, in a trailer located in the parking lot. The trailer’s hours have been reduced for the winter, and as a result the command center is only open from Thursday through Saturday, although between 75 and 100 volunteers are still working within the Schoharie Central School District on a daily basis and the church continues to serve a free lunch seven days a week.
Goodrich said the command center will expand its hours in the spring.
Meyer-Veen said there will be more work opportunities in the spring for people of all skill levels.
“Some people don’t think kids can do anything, but there’s a ton of yardwork that needs to be done,” she said. “There’s actually still a lot of debris. There’s something for everyone.”
Rev. Carol Coltrain, who serves as pastor of Huntersland United Methodist Church in Middleburgh and coordinates the volunteer effort there, said many volunteer teams are being sent to the community by the United Methodist Church’s volunteer arm.
Coltrain said that most of the mucking out of damaged homes has been done, and there’s a big need for people who can paint, stain and put down flooring. Her job, she said, is to “find out who needs what and keep the volunteer teams busy. We don’t want teams with nothing to do.”
The Greene County community of Prattsville, which borders Schoharie County, was also heavily damaged. Volunteer efforts there are being coordinated by the Huntersfield Christian Training Center, a retreat center located near the top of Huntersfield Mountain that wasn’t damaged by the storm.
George Williams, who has been coordinating the volunteer efforts, said 119 homes in Prattsville were damaged by Irene, and 60 of those homes served as primary residences. Of those 60 homes, 34 will be rebuilt and renovated, while the other 26 are mobile homes that were destroyed, houses that are for sale or properties that were demolished. About 14 people have returned home, though six are still working on their houses.
“There’s a lot of work available, from sheetrocking to spackling to carpentry,” Williams said. “We need people to frame new walls, make new walls level, put in new floors.”
Volunteer numbers have steadily dropped, from 800 per day the first weekend after the flood to 150 to 200 per day two months after the damage, but Williams said groups from all over the country are scheduled to come to Prattsville to help rebuild.