Flood relief effort picks up pace
Interest in previous disasters fading
FORT PLAIN Fort Plain’s recovery is rolling right along, according to American Red Cross response manager Michael Raphael.
He led a lively and productive meeting of the Fulton-Montgomery Long Term Recovery Committee Thursday morning, the second since flash floods washed through the village June 28. Gathered in Fort Plain’s United Methodist Church, subcommittees with problems connected with other subcommittees and citizens to find solutions.
A lot was done and a lot was planned. But when the focus shifted from Fort Plain to lingering damage from tropical storms Irene and Lee, in 2011, the vast majority of participants left.
“This is the problem,” Raphael said. “People who were the center of our attention a few months ago have been marginalized by the next flood.”
The committee originally formed to help Montgomery County residents recover from Irene and Lee, but arrived late on the scene. More than a year after those floods, the group was just voting on its bylaws. It missed the wave of volunteer support and funding back in 2011, but didn’t make the same mistake with the most recent flooding.
Early Thursday morning, 38 volunteers from around the area met coordinator Bill Kinisky at Haslett Park for a day of mud removal. He said that’s the most volunteers to hit the streets on a weekday since the disaster struck four weeks ago.
Money too, while always tight, seems to be on its way. State adjusters are at work verifying claims to $4 million in state recovery aid headed to Montgomery County. Businesses across the affected counties are eligible for $2 million in National Grid support and private fundraising efforts are winding up.
In all the rush of productivity, roughly 20 houses in Fulton and Montgomery counties still need help recovering from Irene damage, but there seems to be little interest in providing that help. The full United Methodist fellowship hall diminished to just a dozen committee members when focus shifted away from Fort Plain.
“We’re still trying to help all our flood victims,” Raphael said, pointing out that Irene is ancient history in the public eye.
They’re considering siphoning off some of the torrent of public support rushing to Fort Plain and aiming it at some of the people elsewhere in the county who are still struggling from nearly two years ago.
During the Fort Plain portion of the meeting, organizations agreed on a large-scale community work day to take place Aug. 31, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. They expect hundreds of people to arrive to rebuild scores of homes in the village. Some of them, though, will end up fixing Irene damage miles from the troubled village.
“There’s a hoarder in Fort Johnson,” said construction subcommittee leader Andy McPherson, in talking about the mold problem she still has from past floods. “We really need to fix her place.”
A mobile home in Ephratah also needs work. They couldn’t release names, but said two or three homes of the 20 damaged in Irene will be tackled Labor Day weekend.
To make things worse, Linda Brown, the state disaster case manager who handled the 20 or so projects, will be off the job by the end of August. The state grant that funds her position began in January 2012 and is set to run out, leaving the long-term committee to deal with the lingering effects of Irene.
“I’ll try to get you all of our case files so you can take over,” Brown said.
Matt Ossenfort, co-chair of the committee and local director of Habitat for Humanity, spoke of a balance that must be reached between old and new disasters.
Obviously, Fort Plain has immediate needs. Specifically, it needs scores of volunteers to shovel mud, dozens of skilled workers to rebuild and many more dollars to fund the whole project. Despite this, he said, past victims shouldn’t be forgotten.
“We’re not even sure another hurricane won’t land in the next few months,” he said, “What happens to Fort Plain if there’s a new disaster?”