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Irene: Group listens to Schoharie flood victims

Volunteers plan to record needs not yet addressed

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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Gaylin DenOuden, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, talks about the efforts of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, "Greenshirts" Assessment Team in Schoharie on Tuesday afternoon.
The “greenshirts” (volunteers doing needs assessment for Schoharie Area Long Term) are in Schoharie County, from March 12 until March 23 looking for people who were affected by the floods following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last August.
Those who suffered damage in the floods and will not be able to recover without additional assistance should visit them in the walk-in centers and they will document your needs for the Schoharie Area Long Term Disaster Recovery Coalition.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Gaylin DenOuden, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, talks about the efforts of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, "Greenshirts" Assessment Team in Schoharie on Tuesday afternoon. The “greenshirts” (volunteers doing needs assessment for Schoharie Area Long Term) are in Schoharie County, from March 12 until March 23 looking for people who were affected by the floods following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last August. Those who suffered damage in the floods and will not be able to recover without additional assistance should visit them in the walk-in centers and they will document your needs for the Schoharie Area Long Term Disaster Recovery Coalition.

— On Tuesday, more than six months after the Schoharie Creek overflowed, Michigan resident Tom Hoogeboom pointed to several dozen red dots on a map of the Schoharie Valley that takes up an entire wall in a gutted home on Main Street in Schoharie.

That particular set of dots represents homes likely inundated by the creek when Tropical Storm Irene raged through the valley.

Those are only a few of the spots “Green Shirt” volunteers will be visiting during a two-week campaign organized by Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery (SALT), an effort of clergy, government and volunteer groups determined to rebuild the flood-wrecked valley.

Hoogeboom, a disaster response coordinator for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Disaster Response Services, estimates there are between 1,800 and 2,000 red dots — sites where many homeowners have spent the past six months toiling to put their lives back together.

Green Shirt walk-in centers

Volunteers from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee’s Disaster Response Services will be available to record needs still not met among Schoharie Valley residents impacted by tropical storms Irene and Lee at the following locations, dates and times:

• Schoharie Reformed Church Heritage House, 258 Main St.: today, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.

• Prattsville American Legion Hall, Main Street, next to the firehouse: Thursday and Friday, 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.

• Blenheim Town Hall, 1748 Route 30, North Blenheim: Monday and Tuesday, 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.

• St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 326 Main St., Middleburgh: March 21 and 22, 3 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m.

The volunteers, people of faith who are spending their retirement helping others deal with disasters, all have a warm, understanding look in their eyes — the look of those who witness the aftermath of devastation on a regular basis. The purpose of the group is to catalog all the unmet needs of people whose lives were changed after the tropical storms.

The listing will give volunteers at SALT a solid account of what needs to be done to make sure nobody is forgotten.

Though six months seems like a long time, Green Shirt volunteer Gaylin DenOuden said it’s common for a “needs assessment” to start five or six months after a disaster. That’s when volunteers are likely to “basically find people who have fallen through the cracks,” said DenOuden, a former Minnesota state legislator who went to Joplin, Mo., after the deadly tornado in May 2011.

It’s not much solace, DenOuden said, but one plus he sees in the aftermath of flooding in the Schoharie Valley is the fact that most are hurting for lost possessions, not lost loved ones, like those he saw after the fatal tornadoes in Alabama last fall.

The discussion with victims in Schoharie is different than in places like Joplin, where DenOuden would ask some people what their greatest need was, and the response was the name of a relative, or relatives, killed by the storm.

DenOuden said Schoharie Valley victims he’s met so far seem most upset about losing family photos, gifts from parents and other items that really can’t be replaced.

“All those things are just devastating to lose,” said Green Shirt volunteer Gayle Fopma, of Iowa.

She said one of the things she’s noticed is the impact on people working on their homes during the spare time they get after work — a process that’s been ongoing since not long after Aug. 28, 2011, when the Schoharie Creek spilled over its banks.

“It’s a lot of hours, a lot of exhausted people,” Fopma said.

There’s some who are back in their homes and say they don’t need anything — so they sit down and relate their story.

“That’s a big part of what we do, ask them to relay their experiences,” said Carol Martin, a Green Shirt volunteer from Iowa City, Iowa.

Then there are the flood victims who aren’t home at all — the Green Shirts are leaving fliers on the door with details on drop-in locations where flood victims can stop and tell their stories.

And there’s some victims who are still traumatized, unable to speak about the disaster without breaking down in tears, Fopma said.

DenOuden said one person he met in the Schoharie Valley had damage from flooding in 1996 and received assistance from FEMA then. They didn’t have flood insurance during Tropical Storm Irene, and FEMA denied them any help.

“Where do you start?” he said.

The group of Green Shirt disaster service workers aren’t just recording severe cases, like a flooded house that has yet to be fixed, but any work that residents in the flood zone could use some help with. One individual has a massive pile of stones deposited by the flood in the backyard and found an estimate from a contractor to remove it “unbelievable.”

All needs will be counted, Den-

Ouden said — then SALT will get the list and take it from there.

The campaign will last two weeks, a small window of time in which the group of volunteers hopes to put together an all-encompassing list of the needs of flood victims that have not yet been met.

SALT’s chairwoman, the Rev. Sherrie Meyer-Veen, pastor of the Schoharie Reformed Church, which has been a center of volunteer efforts since the flood, said the group has been working hard to promote various walk-in sites to make sure all unmet needs are accounted for.

“They’re only here for two weeks, so we need to keep them busy,” said Meyer-Veen, who had her home in the village, the church building on Main Street in Schoharie and the former parsonage next door inundated by the Schoharie Creek.

There are a variety of needs that Meyer-Veen said SALT is addressing in three primary categories: personal, household and construction.

She said people shouldn’t think voicing a small need might supplant help for those with greater needs — the list of work that will be compiled will be prioritized, so those with big needs will be helped first.

Even if it’s just some yard work, Meyer-Veen said, SALT hopes to learn “what is it that people will need for a full recovery.”

 
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