Irene: Relief groups step up aid efforts

Relief organizations and other groups are stepping up efforts to assist people of the Capital Region

Relief organizations and other groups are stepping up efforts to assist people of the Capital Region hard-hit by Hurricane Irene.

More than 7,000 people remained without power — the majority of them in Schoharie County — and hundreds were homeless four days after Irene moved through the area with heavy rains and strong winds.

Flooding damaged most major bridges in Schoharie County, forcing their closure along with numerous roads. The bridge over Route 103 in Schenectady County remains closed indefinitely as well. All roads within the city of Schenectady are open, said acting Mayor Gary McCarthy.

McCarthy said some residents of the historic Stockade, which flooded, have yet to return to their homes while others are living on their second floors. “We have done inspections, and some homes do not have power for safety issues,” he said.

Schools in Schenectady County are expected to open without problem, school officials said. In Schoharie County, Middleburgh Central School officials said they plan to open Sept. 7.

The Middleburgh high school and middle school building flooded during the storm, sustaining extensive damage to the cafeteria, distance learning room, faculty room, all lower-floor tech rooms, gym and associated rooms.

According to the district’s website, “it appears the first and second floors [of the building] have not been compromised. At this point, the full focus is on cleanup.” The district is seeking volunteers to help with cleanup efforts.

The American Red Cross of Northeastern New York Region is housing 134 people in eight shelters within six counties, in addition to providing food and home cleanup kits.

“The operation is escalating and the crisis is ongoing. We expect that number to increase as we gain access to more people. These people will not be able to return to their homes anytime soon,” said Caroline S. Boardman, regional communications director for the Red Cross. “We need donations from the public to support our disaster need efforts,” she said.

The Red Cross’ efforts are primarily focused on Greene, Schoharie and Montgomery counties, the hardest-hit counties in the agency’s 17-county service area, Boardman said. The Red Cross website is

Religious groups are mobilizing relief efforts as well. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany is collecting donations to help people within its 14-county service area, said spokesman Ken Goldfarb.

“That is one of the main missions of Catholic Charities, to help people in need,” he said. To obtain assistance, visit:

Goldfarb said Catholic Charities of Schoharie County is collecting furniture at its thrift store at 489 West Main St., Cobleskill, for victims of the flooding. The agency is also providing counseling and mental health assistance at an emergency shelter at Golding School in Cobleskill.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is assisting with relief efforts. Its website is

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is setting up disaster recovery sites in the 11 counties named under a federal declaration on Wednesday. Schenectady and Schoharie counties are on the list.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he is trying to get Montgomery County added to the list. The county sustained severe damage from the floods.

Tonko said the issue may be one of documentation of need, and he is working with federal officials to rectify the matter.

FEMA spokesman Nate Custer said federal disaster assistance can include rental payments for temporary housing, grants for home repairs, grants to replace personal property, unemployment payments, low-interest loans and more, such as counseling. To apply for FEMA assistance, visit, or call 800-621-FEMA (3362).

The FEMA assistance can help people who did not have flood insurance on their homes when Irene hit, Custer said. The assistance is not intended to restore a damaged property to its condition before the disaster, he said.

Bruce Rowledge, of Rowledge Insurance Agency in Scotia, said insurance policies typically do not include coverage for flood damage. He said wind damage is covered on a homeowner’s policy and that vehicles damaged by floods are covered by insurance policies.

“In Rotterdam Junction, 90 percent of the damage is due to flooding,” he said. “If you do not have flood insurance, you can submit an application to FEMA for some aid.”

He called the damage from Irene unlike anything he has seen in the 30 years he has been in business. “We have not had not anything like this before. We have had flooding in this area from ice jams, and these are usually isolated,” he said. “I am optimistic that the people of Rotterdam Junction and our area will come together and take care of it with the use of insurance and others means.”

Benjamin M. Lawsky, superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services, said his office has received complaints of insurers telling clients that flood insurance does not cover damage to their homes. “In fact, flood insurance covers flooding caused by tropical storm Irene and no insurer should even think about not honoring its commitments under a flood insurance policy,” he said.

Lawsky also said that when Irene hit New York, it was designated a tropical storm, not a hurricane, and therefore hurricane deductibles should not apply on homeowners’ insurance policies. “Homeowners should not have to pay this deductible and insurers should be aware that the department will make sure they are not hitting consumers with a hurricane deductible, which is often a full 5 percent of the insured property’s value,” he said.

John Wyatt, senior vice president, senior loan officer for First National Bank of Scotia, said the bank has started a loan program to help people affected by Irene. The program provides personal fixed-rate loans up to $20,000 without need of collateral to individuals and commercial loans up to $50,000. The bank requires collateral to obtain personal loans in regular transactions, he said.

“We are putting this loan program together to help the community. People were faced with unexpected expenses and we figured this was a way to help,” Wyatt said.

In other assistance efforts, the Duracell Power Relief trailer will be at the Walmart store in Cobleskill, 138 Merchant Place, today The trailer offers free services to recharge laptops, mp3 players, cellphones and smart phones, and access to satellite phones, a computer kiosk station and Wi-Fi.

Categories: Schenectady County

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