Flood victims crowd center for state aid
Cuomo team sets up shop in village to help with claims
FORT PLAIN Scores of local flood victims filed into the Fort Plain Senior Center on Monday morning in search of state recovery aid.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed flood assistance teams to locations in the four counties affected most by June 28 flash flooding. One team set up shop in the Fort Plain Senior Center to help home and business owners claim shares of $16 million in promised recovery aid.
The Fort Plain location was open Sunday, when a crew of eight state employees and private contractors helped 98 families file applications. Just 20 minutes after opening Monday morning, more than 30 additional flood victims were waiting for assistance.
Curtis Smith sat in a corner easy chair organizing a clipboard of receipts and pictures of his house on Webster Street.
“I just had single-paned windows in my basement,” he said. “So they just exploded when the water came in. It rushed right through and ripped the cellar door right off.”
He and his wife looked at the online application that became available Sunday, but worried that they couldn’t get all the necessary information.
All their important papers — the deed to their house, birth certificates, insurance papers — were in the basement when the water came in.
“I think we’ll need that,” Smith said.
Actually, the application process was easier than he expected.
“Basically all I need from you is a photo ID,” said state Office of Community Renewal Vice President Chris Leo, who ran the session. “The adjuster will need all that” extensive paperwork, he said.
He said the forms basically entailed a number of signatures, a description of flood damage and an address. Within the next few days they’ll try to get adjusters out to all the homes and businesses looking for aid.
“From there we’re looking at cutting checks within four to six weeks,” he said. “As far as governments go, that’s really fast.”
It’s so fast in fact that some of the details of the program aren’t totally worked out. One question on the form pertains to buyouts.
“It’s just to establish if anyone is interested in a buyout,” Leo said. “We don’t actually have a buyout program yet.”
Even so, he said there’s been a lot of buyout interest. One interested homeowner chatted with village Mayor Guy Barton after filling out his form.
“I’m not greedy,” Ron Luft said. “I’ll take what they give me. Anything is better than nothing at this point.”
Otsquago Creek flood waters lifted his tool shed and smashed it against the deck of his Abbott Street home. Most of the home’s vital systems were ruined. He said he might be able to repair the home with $50,000 and a generous measure of optimism, but that’s well above the program’s $31,900 maximum per homeowner.
After 25 years at that home, he bought a place in Nelliston after the flood. He now commutes across the bridge to his Fort Plain barber shop, which was not affected by the disaster.
People moved quickly through the senior center, commiserating but generally confident in the state aid. The mood was positive.
There was one unhappy group: rental property owners.
Nearby at 19 Mohawk St., Mario Carollo had himself wedged in the basement window of his fourplex. He was laying some cement for a new sill; the old one washed out in the flood.
“I was at the senior center Sunday,” he said, “and they told me I didn’t qualify. I was pretty mad.”
Water filling his basement ruined the hot water heater, furnace and all the wiring, but because there are four apartments there were four of each.
All told he’s looking at a $17,000 bill, with no help.
MarrieAnne Paris, another local landlord, inquired Monday at the senior center but will receive little assistance at the moment.
“The program is modeled after FEMA,” Leo said, “which doesn’t help landlords, but we’re working on getting the Small Business Administration to step in.”
Flood aid help sessions will continue from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today at the Fort Plain Senior Center.
As home and business owners gathered, heavy equipment rolled through the Otsquago Creek. From Dairy Street to the Route 5S bridge, state crews with backhoes and heavy dump trucks rolled Stonehenge-sized boulders into place, pinning them to each other with steel pikes.
They hope to build up a more solid bank, especially below Clinton Avenue, which washed out during the previous floods.
“We just spent $240,000 to fix that road five weeks ago,” Barton said. “Now it’s closed because we’re afraid it could collapse.”
Downstream from the creek bank work, a separate crew worked to remove the angled hulk of the old rail bridge. It was destabilized during the flooding and will be cut into pieces small enough to be removed by crane.