Irene: Longing to be home for the holidays
Goal motivates work on flood-ravaged houses
ROTTERDAM JUNCTION Somer Pedone sat on a stool in the unfinished space that was once her mother-in-law’s home and vowed that this Thanksgiving will be much better than the last.
Last November’s gathering was a thrown-together affair at their temporary residence in Colonie, where the family had taken shelter following Tropical Storm Irene.
“We barely made it out, with water gushing at our feet,” Pedone recalled of the day in August 2011 when the Mohawk River topped its banks and sent water rushing to the ceiling of the first floor of the home at 2 Lock St., where she, her husband, Bob, and her mother-in-law, Bonnie, had all lived together.
More than a year later, the house is well on its way to becoming inhabitable, but there’s still a whole lot of work to do. A stone hearth is in place, the woodstove is ready to be installed and Habitat for Humanity volunteers have repaired the plumbing and electrical systems. But the walls are still the dull gray of unfinished drywall, the floors are bare plywood and laundry is drying on lines strewn across the room because the donated dryer hasn’t been hooked up yet.
“We’re going to have Thanksgiving here whether it’s ready or not,” Pedone insisted. “We’re going to make do. We’ve got the table and chairs and stuff, and we’re hoping to have tile down at least.”
Pedone and her family never dreamed righting the house would take so long.
“I was really hoping to have [my mother] in by last Christmas but that didn’t work,” said Bob Pedone. “So I figured the next goal is Thanksgiving. It’s coming up quick.”
Although it’s been more than a year since tropical storms Irene and Lee devastated Rotterdam Junction, there are still families in the hard-hit hamlet longing to be able to gather around their dining room table for turkey or decorate an evergreen in their own living room.
According to Nathan Mandsager, coordinator for the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County, the coalition has finished work on 73 flood-damaged homes in the county since last November, but is still working on 13.
The goal is to have all of the construction projects completed by New Year’s Day, said Anne Rockwood, construction manager for Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County, a group that works closely with the Flood Recovery Coalition.
Last Wednesday afternoon, 12 Habitat volunteers took a lunch break at St. Margaret of Cortona Church in Rotterdam Junction. They chatted over soup, salad and chocolate chip cookies provided by the Rotterdam Kiwanis Club, before heading back out to tape, sand, wire and paint in nearby homes.
Andy Carlson of Troy, a state Health Department retiree, has been volunteering in Rotterdam Junction since February.
“Six to 10 of us come on a fairly regular basis. … We do everything,” he said. “It’s good stuff. It’s all about giving back.”
Volunteer Fred Simone of Rotterdam was finishing up odds and ends in the once waterlogged log cabin at 17 Elm St. on Wednesday. He’s been working there for the past few months, painting, putting up cabinets and installing trim. “I just enjoy doing it and am fortunate to have the time to do it,” he said.
Dave McKeon, owner of the Elm Street property, said at least 90 percent of the restoration work in his home has been done by volunteers. “If it weren’t for them, I would not be where I am right now, because I had to do it on a shoestring,” he said.
McKeon’s home, which sits about 500 yards from the Mohawk River, was inundated with 11 feet of water when Irene hit. The house next door, which he also owns, was flooded too. Bouncing back from the disaster was unimaginable to him at first.
“During the first month, if you had given me a bulldozer, I would have knocked them both down and quit,” he admitted.
But with the help of volunteers, the house is starting to look like a home again. The log walls have been disinfected, stained and re-chinked, there are new oak cabinets in the kitchen and the appliances will be installed soon. The heating system’s not up and running yet, but there’s a woodstove blazing in the living room. Flooring still needs to be installed, but the living room walls are painted a pretty blue.
“My wife says we are going to be in by Thanksgiving, and I say Christmas, but I wouldn’t bet against her. I think she may win,” he said.
The hardwood floors at 1291 Main St. are brand new. They’ve been laid out in decorative patterns — clearly the work of an artist. The handiwork was done by Norman Torres, one of many volunteers who have helped put the little white Cape Cod back together since its foundation was destroyed by the flood, and muddy water ruined everything on the first floor.
Chris Battiste of Niskayuna grew up there and his mother, Betty, still calls it home. But since last August, she’s been living elsewhere, waiting for the day she can move back in.
With the help of the Flood Recovery Coalition, work on the home commenced in March and is being completed economically.
“We had gotten a quote of $72,000 [to] $73,000 to rebuild the house and I think we’re probably coming in at half that,” Battiste estimated.
Everything has been replaced on the first floor except for a few windows. The walls have been painted a pale yellow, there’s a new tub in the bathroom with tan tile surrounding it, and the kitchen should be up and running very soon.
Battiste’s still not sure if the family will be able to celebrate the holidays in his childhood home this year.
“That’s the goal. We’re pushing hard,” he said, noting how impressed he is with the top-notch work Coalition volunteers have done to help him get his mother back where she belongs.
“Essentially what I would have expected them to do is just make it inhabitable and make it structurally sound. They’ve done more than that,” he said. “For people to spend their efforts and go above and beyond the call of duty for people they don’t know, they’re not family members, they’re just trying to do a service for the community. I don’t have enough good things to say about them.”