Volunteers making a difference in Schoharie
Cleanup continues more than a year after floods
SCHOHARIE For sale: a concrete foundation and wood skeleton.
The structure on Bridge Street was stripped to its core. A concrete slab gave way to a rectangular hole in the ground, covered with two-by-fours that once held up a floor. Dry, cracked, mud-coated stray pieces of faded pink insulation and rusty nails poked out of the frame. There was frayed wire, scraps of wood, a dented ventilation system and torn pieces of sheetrock in what had been the basement of this home.
For decades, an elderly woman called the place home. It took five days to tear down.
“From the exterior, no, it wasn’t obvious,” said Jami Hudson, a 26-year-old Seattle man who oversaw the demolition on Bridge Street.
It didn’t look like a home in need of demolition when he and his team of Americorps volunteers first arrived last week. But once they took sledgehammers and reciprocating saws to the walls, they realized just how unsuitable this home was to inhabit.
“Once you got into the walls and everything, you could see that it was rotting away on the inside,” said Hudson. “It was filled with mold.”
About 100 volunteers spent their Saturday rebuilding the Schoharie Valley. It was National Make a Difference Day, so the flood-ravaged region got a little more help than usual. But really, it’s been getting this kind of help nonstop since tropical storms Irene and Lee changed many residents’ lives.
The elderly resident of the Bridge Street home was overwhelmed when her home flooded more than a year ago, said Sarah Goodrich, director of Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery. While her neighbors next door were mucking out their homes, putting in a new foundation and rebuilding, she was at a loss for what to do.
“There was some disagreement among the family members as to what should be done,” said Goodrich. “She just didn’t have the capacity, she didn’t want to come back here and rebuild. Emotionally and monetarily, it just ... she just couldn’t do it.”
So the home sat, as is. It didn’t get mucked out, aired out or cleaned out. Dampness set in. Mold grew. And kept growing.
“The longer it sits, the more the building deteriorates,” said Goodrich. “It could have been saved had it been remediated right in the beginning, had people gone into it right in the beginning and cleared it out.”
Now, the only options left are to demolish and rebuild, or demolish and sell the land.
A “For Sale” sign was posted outside the home Saturday on a tree; its leaves had sprinkled the lawn in gold and orange.
Goodrich says flood-ousted homeowners who once weren’t sure what to do with their affected homes have begun returning to the valley to rebuild or demolish. Some have already completed rebuilding. Others had their homes foreclosed on, she said, and volunteers can’t get on the property to do remediation that would make the now bank-owned property salable.
“These folks really are making a difference,” she said Saturday of the volunteers who continue to pour into the valley. “The need is ongoing for skilled labor and unskilled volunteers, not only in the village, but also out in the more rural areas. Many of those homes are in worse shape because they not only have structures that need help, but also septic systems and wells that are still contaminated.”
The group of Americorps volunteers working on the Bridge Street home has been in the valley for about eight weeks. They live out of a food pantry in Breakabeen, a hamlet in the town of Fulton.
Since they arrived, they have demolished five structures — three doublewide trailers, a burnt-out shell of a building on Route 30 and the home on Bridge Street. On Saturday, they were cleaning out the piles of sheetrock, wood, shingles and glass from the demolition.
Heather Gorman joined Americorps nine months ago and has traveled to Baltimore, Connecticut, Delaware and Mississippi. She wasn’t sure what she was walking into when she arrived in the Schoharie Valley. The 19-year-old lives in Sacramento, Calif., where Hurricane Irene never posed a threat. She had heard about the flooding on the East Coast, but she wasn’t expecting there to be all that much to do more than a year later.
“It’s so crazy to me how much flooding there really was,” she said. “Every time people tell me how high the water had gone, it kind of brings it to reality how much places do need that help, even a year, several years later.”
Inside the Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery office — a trailer set up outside the Heritage House in the village — Jerrine Corallo was updating the organization’s Facebook page with information about Hurricane Sandy.
By Saturday evening, weather officials had issued high wind and flood watches for the Capital Region, but Schoharie residents didn’t seem too worried.
“Our stance right now is to stay alert and make sure people are prepared,” said Corallo. “I think the county is in a much better place this year than they were last year, in terms of the water table, and the Gilboa Dam has already been emptying out. The preparedness is a lot stronger this time around.”
In the meantime, recovery continues. And maybe in another year, said Corallo, their work will be done.