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Fort Plain fights back after flood

Mother Nature swipes; human nature rebounds

Sunday, June 30, 2013
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Devastation is seen on Abbott Street as cleanup continued on Saturday, June 29, 2013 in Fort Plain following flash flooding in the Mohawk Valley the day before.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Devastation is seen on Abbott Street as cleanup continued on Saturday, June 29, 2013 in Fort Plain following flash flooding in the Mohawk Valley the day before.

— Mother Nature is sure impressive, thought Toni Hubbard. In a few minutes Friday, she inundated Fort Plain with Otsquago Creek's waters, flooding buildings, mudding the historic village and sweeping away belongings and even a mobile home.

But Hubbard, watching Saturday from her front porch on Main Street, was even more impressed by human nature's response. Although it may take months, maybe years, to clean up, not one neighbor wallowed in self-pity.

Additional Flood Coverage

Fort Plain's economy will need help, including a new home for the Save-a-Lot.

The Fort Plain woman who was likely swept away in her mobile home is presumed dead.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took an aerial tour of the damage on Friday.

Red Cross Relief

The Red Cross will open a mobile kitchen today at the Harry Hoag Elementary School, 25 High Street, starting at 11:30am. Lunch will be served to residents, relief workers and first responders. Meals will also be distributed throughout the affected neighborhoods, with mass feedings expected to continue for the next few days.

Instead, Hubbard saw residents march out in boots and gloves. She saw a fleet of trucks from so many different volunteer fire companies that she lost count. State agencies drove in, followed by local plumbers, excavators, contractors, truckers and more. When she took a break from cleaning her basement, she noticed that the Amish, in straw hats and rolled-up sleeves, had swarmed the village. They shoveled mud, sprayed sidewalks and hauled debris to curbs.

A volunteer with muddy boots and a clipboard walked up to Hubbard’s front steps Saturday afternoon.

“Excuse me, ma’am, are you going to need any volunteer help?”

Hubbard, 63, was adamant: “Oh, count us last, please. A lot of the people on this street had water in their living spaces. We could use help, but after those people.”

The Hubbards, Toni and Philip, live in a grand three-story Victorian house at 87 Main St. Their basement and foundation sit higher than others on the street and both are strong and sturdy, surrounded with brick and stone. With Friday's floods, water filled the basement and stopped just before the first floor. In addition to family memorabilia, the Hubbards’ furnaces, circuit board, washer and dryer were all destroyed.

“I was upstairs sleeping and my husband came in and said we had a river on both sides of the house,” recalled Toni Hubbard of the initial chaos Friday. “I mean, on both sides there was just water flowing and boats going up here trying to see if people needed help. It’s kind of weird to see a boat floating on by your house.”

In all, 70 buildings in the village were affected by flooding. Homes and businesses close to the Otsquago were hit the hardest, especially along Abbott, Reid and River streets. Businesses along Main and side streets were shut down as their owners aired out their interiors. Any section of the village closest to the creek and the Mohawk River — the roads, the sidewalks, the buildings, the trees, bushes, cars, signs and people — were covered in mud and dirt.

Women wiped down any furniture they could salvage and disinfected dishes. Families carried shovels and dumped buckets full of sludge on the curb. The air was thick and hazy as a steady stream of emergency vehicles kicked up dirt and dust. The stench was thicker.

After surveying the damage Saturday, state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, said recovery has to focus on lines of credit or tax breaks from the state to get businesses open as soon as possible.

"A lot of people lost their jobs, like the Save-a-Lot, which employs 20 people," she said, noting it also bought produce from local farmers.

Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton said the supermarket chain is committed to staying in the area, but its owners want to find a new location.

Todd Lynch sat in the doorway of Harry Hoag Elementary School with bags of clothing, a bowl of water and food and his dog on a leash. Dogs weren’t allowed in the gymnasium of the school, which was transformed into an emergency shelter Friday for displaced residents.

Like many in the village, Lynch woke up Friday surprised to see the creek had swollen into his backyard. He lives on Center Street, which was caked in mud and detritus Saturday.

“My immediate reaction was to get out and come here,” he said. “More or less, everybody knows when there is a flood to come here. It’s just something you gotta be prepared for.”

His wife Tracy went back home Friday night to get clothes, and noticed the basement was full of water and the house smelled like gas. They’re not sure when they can go back in, so they plan to stick around the shelter until Monday.

Shelter manager Charlie Diorio said the school will remain open as long as residents need it. The Northeastern New York chapter of the American Red Cross is overseeing the shelter, providing food, water and a place to sleep to anyone who needs it. They are also handing out cleanup kits that include several brooms, a mop, a bucket, bleach, sponges, gloves and special detergent.

More than 25 people spent the night there Friday, with 20 staying for lunch, said Diorio. Subway in Palatine Bridge brought over dozens of sandwiches Friday, the Canajoharie Volunteer Fire Department stopped by with cookies and a bunch of residents brought over food, though the shelter can only accept store-bought and packaged food.

It was estimated that about 30 people would stay in the shelter Saturday night.

“All kinds of people have stopped in, asking when can I get back into my house? I need assistance finding another house, that kind of thing,” he said.

The state is in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency about fixing damaged homes and bringing in temporary shelter, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a Saturday afternoon news conference in Herkimer, another Mohawk Valley community badly hit.

Montgomery County officials are urging residents whose homes were affected to document and photograph all damage. FEMA teams are expected to arrive Monday to begin assessments. Documentation will help when it comes time to file a claim.

“The worst is behind us for now,” Cuomo said. “You’ve had people’s homes that are just destroyed and demolished in a matter of minutes, just out of the blue. We want you to know that we are here and we will do everything possible to help. You are not alone. You have neighbors, you have friends who care. You have agencies, not-for-profit agencies who are here to help.

“They say it’s darkest before the dawn, but we’ve been through this before. We come together and we come out of it better than we went into it. And the same is going to happen here and we’re all going to make sure it happens here.”

The danger might not have passed yet, said Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow, who acknowledged there is the possibility of torrential rain on Monday.

"At this point, people in low-lying areas and flood-prone areas need to be vigilant of the water," he said, suggesting they may call for evacuations again Monday.

Anyone wishing to volunteer with cleanup efforts in the village should report to the Fort Plain Reformed Church at 165 Canal St. Volunteers will be sent out in teams of five to help where needed. Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery sent its own volunteers to the village Saturday to compile a list of addresses and homeowners who will need help, as well.

Schwabrow said that supplies should not be brought to the village at this time, as right now the biggest need is volunteers for cleanup and neither the church, fire department nor command center at the Senior Center have been approved to accept donations.

National Grid has a tent in Hazlett Park where residents can get information about having their power restored. Crews spent most of Friday assessing damage and removing and locking off meters. On Saturday, they swarmed the village to check meters and other equipment that may have been affected by the flood.

Above the continuous hum of generators and beeping trucks Saturday afternoon, Hubbard wondered aloud how anyone in the village would be able to afford the cleanup. She doesn’t have flood insurance, and she doubted many residents did, either.

“No one can afford it,” she said, wiping a speck of dried mud from her brow. “It’s sad to see all these people. Fort Plain has had so many hits. We had the 2006 flood. We have no jobs here. People in town are unemployed. They’d be working if there were jobs.

“I grew up in this town and know these people and to hear that from this storm, at least one person is probably dead, that’s really haunting. But we feel really lucky. We’re contending with the mess. We’re contending with expenses. But you know, you can’t beat Mother Nature. You cannot beat Mother Nature. So you keep going and you do what you can.”

 
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