This week CRWRC Disaster Response Services (DRS) volunteers in Schoharie, New York, are setting up a new reconstruction site that will open July 7. Schoharie was one of eight counties in New York State that President Obama declared a federal disaster area following Hurricane Irene in August, 2011.
CRWRC-DRS regional managers Doug and Pat Guikema, who completed a volunteer assignment in Schoharie in June, are returning there to oversee the opening of the new site. The couple reports that the need is still great.
“Schoharie County was one of the hardest hit areas in upstate New York,” Doug Guikema says. “Imagine going to bed knowing that when you wake up, most of your town will be under seven to nine feet of water. Many homes, the entire Schoharie business district, and all of the surrounding farmlands were flooded. Many residents lost their homes, businesses, animals, and property.”
CRWRC-DRS will be working with SALT, a long-term recovery group in Schoharie that is connected to a Reformed Church in America (RCA) congregation in the area. Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, pastor at Schoharie RCA, also chairs the response organization. SALT has been active in helping area residents get back on their feet after Irene with events like a “Green Ribbon Campaign” in February to help raise money in the community to cover their contributions to CRWRC-DRS (known as “the green shirts”) assessment efforts.
“The SALT team includes representatives from many faiths and communities in Schoharie County,” Guikema says. “They are one of the most organized and active local response groups we have encountered in our time with CRWRC-DRS.”
The work in Schoharie isn’t the first activity that CRWRC-DRS has been involved in after Hurricane Irene—far from it. When it first made landfall in the US on August 27, 2011, Irene was not a high-velocity hurricane. It was, however, the same size as Hurricane Katrina as it churned up the US East Coast from North Carolina to Vermont and eventually blew itself out over Nova Scotia in eastern Canada.
The US government weather agency, NOAA, reported that while Irene was on land, it affected electric service to more than nine million people, and 2.3 million were under mandatory evacuation orders in six states. Rivers in the storm’s path flooded, breaking 26 record river levels. Roads, airports, train terminals, and subway services were all closed. Forty people lost their lives. Irene was the tenth billion-dollar disaster to occur in 2011, breaking a 1980 record for the number of major disasters in one year. (www.ncdc.noaa.gov)
As National Guard troops and government emergency supplies moved into pre-staging areas in North Carolina during the first days of the disaster, CRWRC-DRS managers were also on the road to Hyde County and Pamlico Sound to meet with local officials, churches, and recovery organizations.
The first CRWRC-DRS Rapid Response team, with a tractor, tarps, and chainsaws in tow, arrived a few days later to begin to clear felled trees and cover damaged roofs. At this early date, CRWRC-DRS personnel realized that Irene would require a long-term, multi-state response and began to raise $500,000 to help meet the needs. As of today, less than $114, 000 has been donated to respond to Irene and other storms from the 2011 hurricane season.
Despite the financial challenges, CRWRC-DRS volunteers have responded to requests for help along the Eastern Seaboard, making contact with dozens of churches like Terra Ceia CRC in Pantego, North Carolina, and working with residents in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, where the organization helped with rebuilding after Hurricane Isabel in 2003. When the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey, flooded due to a foot of heavy rain from Irene, CRWRC-DRS volunteers helped pump 13 feet of water from the basement of Northside Community CRC and removed contaminated appliances, boilers, furniture, and computers from the church building. A half-dozen CRWRC-DRS spring break work groups also helped families recover from Hurricanes Irene and Katrina in March and April.
Despite these efforts, many residents affected by Irene—especially in inland locations like Schoharie, New York, and other northern states—were still trying to recover from its destruction in May, 2012. In response, CRWRC-DRS volunteers conducted 125 needs assessments with homeowners in Morrison, New Jersey, where they found houses with drywall that needed to be removed, floors covered with mud, and people living in their vehicles.
As they ended their CRWRC-DRS assignment in Schoharie last month, volunteers Doug and Pat Guikema reported that, “five additional towns in New York State requested assistance with homeowner assessments for hurricane damage.”
During the week of July 7, teams of volunteers will begin to work at the Schoharie site in two-week intervals to help repair and rebuild some of these disaster-damaged homes. Many of the volunteers are retired or semi-retired men and women who give several months a year to serve with CRWRC-DRS to bring help and hope to disaster survivors. Please support this much needed work with your prayers and financial gifts.