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Cleaning up Rotterdam Junction after the re-flood

Gazette contributor Kelly de la Rocha of Glenville was in Rotterdam Junction volunteering to help flood victims. Here is her report, filed on Monday, Sept. 12.

The water was nearing the top of my nearly knee-high muckboots as I walked down Ken Slezak's driveway. His Rotterdam Junction home, which sits on the bank of the Mohawk River, had flooded for a second time in less than two weeks. The house was once again on dry (well, actually muddy) ground, but there was no way to get to it without trudging through the murky lake the receding river had left behind.

When Hurricane Irene roared through town, she brought with her floodwaters that reached almost to the ceiling of Ken's finished, walk-in basement. Once the putrid water subsided, the basement had been dismantled down to the studs. The floors were cleared of mud and the studs had dried.

Ken was just about ready to apply mold inhibitor to the wood when Tropical Storm Lee showed up. This time, the water didn't rise quite as high -- it stopped before reaching the fifth step in the staircase that leads up to the first floor. But it was a discouraging setback.

"My washer and dryer made it through the first round of flooding," he said. "But I don't think they made it through this one." He told me about the almost new freezer that had been sitting in the driveway a few days ago, waiting to be placed in the basement. "Now it's down the street," he said. "It floated off."

Don Patneaude, Barb Becker, one of Ken's neighbors and I set to work with a hose, squeegees, mops and brooms, pushing the mud into piles, then scooping it up with shovels. Barb's mop broke in half, and we asked Ken if he had another one. "There was one around here somewhere," he said, scanning the muddy yard. "It must have floated off."

Pre-Irene, there was an apartment in the basement, and a tenant who had lived there for years. He's long gone now, and Ken's considering leaving the basement as-is, with its skeleton of 2x4s exposed.
"This is the third flood we've had since 2006," he told me. "I'm thinking of selling this place."

Scooping up river mud in a snow shovel is like trying to eat spaghetti with a spoon. But, for several hours, we kept at it. A once-yellow plastic garbage can was our mud receptacle. Once it started to get full, I would bring it out into the yard, far from the house, and dump it. Out back, there was a line of jars and old soda bottles filled with pennies and flood mud. "I wonder how much money floated away in the floods," Barb mused.

A representative for FEMA, who lives in Washington state, came while we were working. He measured the size of the home and asked a lot of questions about what the place had been like before the floods. He apologized for the extensiveness of his query. "I have to establish that you actually live here," he told Ken.

Over the years, the FEMA rep told us, he's seen people attempt to get reimbursed for homes that they claimed sat on what were actually vacant lots. Others, he said, have tried to claim abandoned homes as their own, in an attempt to collect FEMA dollars.

While he inspected Ken's basement, we continued to wrestle with the mud, scooping painfully small amounts into the shovel, dumping it into the trash can.

By quitting time, the floors looked better, but nowhere near mud-free. Ken thanked us profusely for our help, called us angels. I laughed at the thought of squeegee-wielding angels in muddy muck boots and shredding, yellow rubber gloves.

Want to help those affected by Hurricane Irene or know of resources that can help them? Post it on my TimeShare Volunteers Facebook page, and please become a fan by clicking "Like."

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