FORT PLAIN Local, state and federal representatives were fuming Monday after learning the federal government is leaving victims of the late-June flooding in upstate New York to fend for themselves.
The news, which was announced not by the Federal Emergency Management Agency but rather by those who heard of the decision — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson — is a major blow to Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton, who said he’s been asking residents to hang on because help was on the way.
“This is just going to wipe their thoughts and future dreams of Fort Plain right off the map,” he said Monday, adding that he was still hoping there was some kind of error.
“This doesn’t sound right. Maybe there’s a mistake,” Barton said.
One village resident, Ethel Healey, lost her life when the Otsquago Creek jumped its banks and swallowed her home June 28.
Dozens of others sustained major damage June 28 in Montgomery County and in other New York counties: Allegany, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Niagara, Oneida, Otsego and Warren.
President Barack Obama declared a disaster in those counties Friday.
Among the assistance counties are eligible for, according to a statement Friday from FEMA, is payment of at least 75 percent of the cost to repair or replace damaged public facilities, as well as those of some nonprofit, community service groups, and as much as 75 percent of the cost of hazard mitigation projects.
But FEMA announced Monday that it would not offer assistance to private property owners recovering from flood damage.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a news release later Monday promising New York state will do what it can to help struggling flood victims.
FEMA spokeswoman Caitlin Ostomel said Monday the agency determined that response to the damage from the June 28 storms was not beyond the capability of state and local governments and voluntary agencies.
She said people should contact their insurance companies and local nonprofits to get help.
Cuomo in the Monday news release said New Yorkers are good neighbors and will come to each others’ aid.
“An effective government is one that serves the people and when disaster strikes is there to help. In this situation, people need help, and you haven’t seen anything until you see New Yorkers come together,” he said.
Gibson, R-Kinderhook, called FEMA’s decision “unacceptable.”
“Having just been in Fort Plain on Saturday, I cannot express more strongly how critical this aid money is to local residents. They need help rebuilding their homes, businesses and lives, and FEMA’s decision is flat-out wrong,” he said in a release.
Barton said it’s unclear how much time the village has before contending with an exodus of residents.
“It cannot survive like this. I’ve got poor people that don’t even have an apartment. They don’t know where to live,” he said.
“I’m taken off my feet completely. We send money overseas for everything and they don’t want to send a dime for a stove or a refrigerator.”