For some in Rotterdam Junction, renewal, for others, regrets
ROTTERDAM JUNCTION Resilience is part of Dan Hladik’s story. For Norm Torres, renovation and renewal are points for discussion.
Dick and Marion Whalen talk about relocation. And a little regret.
All four saw homes in Rotterdam Junction severely damaged in the floods that came with Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28, 2011. Living rooms became swimming pools at Hladik’s home on Isabella Street, for Torres’ relatives on Lock Street and for the Whalens on Main Street.
Things have changed during the past two years.
While people who lived in the other four houses on Isabella Street abandoned properties and moved away, Hladik, his wife, Keri, and 2-year-old son, Daniel, decided to stay. Torres talks about help from volunteers who helped his in-laws, Camille and Arnold Serapilio, return to their home.
The Whalens did not come back to Main Street. The couple purchased a house on Garner Avenue in Schenectady, next to daughter Claudia Jakubowski.
Houses on Isabella, a short street off Scrafford Lane, have been boarded up. On one, a pale yellow brick building, a “No Trespassing” sign has been posted. On a house with light blue siding is spray-painted “Keep Out” in large, red letters.
Hladik, 33, has lived on Isabella for the past seven years. At the back of his property, an abandoned stretch of the Erie Canal that filled with Irene’s heavy rains was a main reason for torrents that filled his yard and house.
“The water came in so hard and fast, it took the garage right off its foundation,” said Hladik, who works on a highway maintenance crew for the state Department of Transportation.
The water never reached the second floor in the house, thanks to the nine-foot ceiling on the first floor.
Hladik said the decision to say was partially a financial one. Insurance money could be used to fix the house or pay off the mortgage. He didn’t want to pay off the mortgage and leave with nothing. And his relatives — and Keri’s relatives — all live nearby.
While renovations to the house are nearly complete, there are still things to worry about. Earlier this month, Hladik said, vagrants moved into one of the vacant homes on the street. Police chased them out, and Hladik now worries about undesirables wandering his neighborhood.
And because the area has such poor drainage — an issue Hladik has talked over with the town of Rotterdam with no results — weather forecasts are no longer casual reading.
“Every time they talk about a severe storm or severe rain, it’s terrifying,” he said.
One big family
Norm Torres and Arnie Serapilio looked at the ruined house on Lock Street in Rotterdam Junction during the late summer of 2011.
Walls, wiring and appliances had been ruined. Arnie asked Norm, his brother-in-law, if they could save the two-story residence and the longtime home of his parents, Arnold and Camille Serapilio.
“I said, ‘Arnie, we can bring this back, but it’s going to be a lot of work,’ ” said Torres, 55, who lives in Mariaville Lake. “I said ‘We’re going to start out, but we’re going to start out as a family.’ ”
It ended up as a big family of relatives and volunteers. Nearly two years later, renovations continue on the house with the light gray siding.
Torres has great memories of volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, college students and members of community groups who offered tools and time to help put things back together. As he sat in the backyard of the Serapilio home, Torres said he was impressed with changes he saw in people as they responded to a disaster.
“Neighbors who didn’t like each other before, they started to care about each other,” he said. “It was such a wakeup call. It made people trust each other more. Their neighbors started to know each other and made them realize how strong they could be as one.”
Torres said the house was in good enough shape for Arnold and Camille to celebrate Thanksgiving on Lock Street three months after the flood. Torres also said it was important for the family to return the parents to familiar surroundings. Arnold Serapilio died Aug. 11 at age 88.
“We wanted to get him back home, we wanted him to spend his last days at home. And he did,” Torres said.
Torres said pumps designed to pump floodwaters out of the street are always overwhelmed. He said his in-laws lost their new hot water heater earlier this summer when heavy rains flooded the basement.
Torres also said he has complained to the town of Rotterdam in the past, but no improvements to the pumping system have been made.
“Take care of these people,” he said. “They’re taxpayers. They deserve to have this taken care of, so they can relax.”
Several Friday afternoon telephone calls to the Rotterdam Department of Public Works were not returned.
Torres is glad to see — and hear — summer on Lock Street. When a neighbor starts her lawn mower, Torres doesn’t worry about the noise.
“No more air compressors or generators,” he said. “The power came back, the people came back, the grass, the trees, the birds.”
No place like home
Dick Whalen, 85, was born and raised inside the brick veneer home at 1261-1263 Main St. Flood damage — and their projected cost for repairs — were factors that forced Whalen and his wife of 57 years, Marion, to find a new home.
“It would have taken a considerable amount of money to bring the place up to standards,” said Whalen, former Rotterdam town historian. “The first floor took an awful beating. The basement took a beating, but the side walls were so strong, it didn’t faze them. So the structure didn’t take a hit.”
The Whalens’ three daughters helped persuade their parents to move closer to family members. The Whalens sold the Main Street property in February, and it is currently being renovated.
“I guess we had to come here,” Whalen said. “They had this house for sale, so it worked out fine.”
Marion Whalen said she misses her old home. She misses her garden, her close friend Marylou Remillard and her church, St. Margaret of Cortona.
“The older you get, the harder it is to make new friends and adjust to a new life,” Marion said.
The Whalens have brought memories from Main Street to their new home, including framed photographs of family members that now hang on living room walls, wooden furniture and Dick’s collection of history books and photographs.
And while Dick Whalen has left Rotterdam Junction, he said he still visits. And he said he has not left behind friendships.
“All the people I know, who I hang out with, are from Rotterdam Junction,” he said. “We meet in Scotia every Monday morning.”