For about 16 days now, Shirley Malik has returned to the site where her Priddle Road house stood before the nearby Schoharie Creek picked it up and carried it downstream.
Malik, 74, hasn’t had much luck finding traces of the 29 years she lived in the home with her husband, Bill, who died last year, but she made a discovery Wednesday that brought her to tears.
After spending about a half-hour raking a patch of dirt near where her house had been, she found a shiny object. It turned out to be the second of a pair of earrings, made in Japan, that her late husband sent her while he was stationed in Korea decades ago.
“That’s something special, because he gave it to me,” Malik said of the golden earring — the second she’s found after more than two weeks of searching.
Volunteers cleared much of Malik’s lot and dragged junk to the road days ago, but she’s surrounded by destroyed homes and felled trees, as well as little divots and big holes in what land remains.
And she wants to keep looking for her house — the remains of which might be as far north as Burtonsville, in Montgomery County.
Malik has flood insurance and is considering rebuilding. But with winter on its way, she’s unsure whether she can still live there or if she’ll stay with her sister in Saratoga County.
Wires attached to felled utility poles still litter the ground in the neighborhood where at least 20 homes were destroyed, and walking there isn’t really safe. But Malik said she has no choice other than to return and keep looking for something, anything that represents the decades of her life spent in the formerly idyllic setting near the Schoharie.
She intends to keep searching “every day — I have to find something.”
Malik is maintaining hope she’ll find more, and she might. Shayne Walters, supervisor in the neighboring town of Charleston to the north, said there’s a massive pile of debris near the creek in the vicinity of Butler Road.
It’s impassable and he’s urging Malik not to go down there, but he’s trying to find a friend with a four-wheel-drive truck capable of getting in there. He hopes to help Malik find some more remnants of her life.
The town of Esperance has made large trash bins available for the Priddle Road neighborhood, and there are several portable toilets along the roadway.
But the Dumpsters aren’t much use for people without large machinery. Some have the crushed remains of other people’s homes teetering against trees on their lots, a dangerous situation leaving many wondering what they’re supposed to do.
Residents this week said many people have come to help, including church volunteers, a man in a pickup truck who delivers fresh food daily from the Esperance Elks Lodge and military personnel who helped clear debris out of homes that survived Irene’s deluge. But as the days have turned to weeks, one man who declined to be identified said the Priddle Road/Memory Lane neighborhood, tucked away in the hills on the border of Schoharie and Montgomery counties, has become a “forgotten zone.”
Standing on a patch of sand where his house once stood, Raymond Lucas pointed out Tuesday a freshly-filled section of land a few feet from the creek off Priddle Road.
“I filled it with about 20 wheelbarrows full, graded it and seeded it now, because now’s the time to seed,” said Lucas, 61, who decided in July he wanted to retire in the home that’s been in his family for more than 40 years.
Two months later, the creek picked up that house and crushed it into the trees. Sixteen days after the storm, Lucas still had remains of two other homes on his parcel, and he’s concerned rats will start moving into the neighborhood.
The town of Esperance lost an estimated 150 homes in the aftermath of Irene, 20 or more just in the tiny creekside neighborhood once called “Priddle Camp.”
“This was the peak,” Lucas said, pointing to some roofing sticking out from between the trees.
“It almost made it through the trees. I would prefer to have 100 percent loss than have that,” he said, motioning towards the shredded mass of crushed home.
“It’s beyond devastation; it’s demoralizing. I mean, you can really get depressed,” he said.
Lucas has a home in New Jersey, but he spent the prior four nights sleeping in his 1997 Lincoln on his property. He said the car is comfortable.
He returned one day last week to find a brand-new picnic table on his parcel.
“Someone brought this table. I don’t know who. It’s really cool because I didn’t have a place to sit,” he said.
As they come to grips with their loss, some residents are beginning to develop a sense of humor. It’s all some of them have left.
Donna Waszczak, 57, who lived on Priddle Road for the past 23 years, says her address is now “the second hole on the right.” A void remains on the lot where her house, raised by 3 feet after the 1996 flood, once stood.
The second story of her house is about 100 yards to the north, still sitting where the Schoharie left it, on the opposite side of Priddle Road.
Waszczak remembers having about 450 day lilies and about 1,000 other bulbs, “Oriental, Asiatic, tall, short, smelly, non-smelly.”
She lost several chickens and rabbits in the flood but was happy to learn her cat Rocky was rescued from a tree a day after the flood.
The cat spent the evening in the tree while the creek was destroying homes surrounding him. After a neighboring youth climbed the tree and got the cat down, Rocky disappeared for a couple of days — Waszczak said that’s likely because it didn’t know where its home is.
She figures it’s suffering from “kitty PTSD.”
“The saddest part is that we’ve lost our community. Most aren’t coming back,” said Waszczak, who intends to rebuild.
She said many people keep coming back, searching for something that may be left of their life there.
“For some, there’s nothing to find,” she said Wednesday while chatting with her friend Judy Crommie, whose house further down the road was damaged but left standing.
Crommie, who breeds Labrador retrievers, lost four of them in the flood.
Waszczak has several dogs. They survived and were living in her car before neighbors built a new dog house and pen for her and brought it down on a trailer.
That’s great, she said, because now her dogs have a house — even if she doesn’t.
“That’s my second floor,” Waszczak said, pointing at some rubble down the road.
She’s been able to stay in the home of her neighbor since the aftermath of the flood — he’s out of town and his house is safe, having sustained only some basement flooding.
“In my world, people have been amazing,” Waszczak said.
Though there’s been a great deal of progress in the hard-hit villages of Middleburgh and Schoharie, residents off Priddle Road are concerned about their neighborhood.
How to help
There are many ways to help the people, schools and organizations hurt by the floods. Here are some links and ideas:
- “Project Hope”
- American Red Cross
- Capital Regionâs Online Farmersâ Market
- Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York
- Catholic Charities
- Salvation Army
- Comprehensive roundup
- To donate to the Schoharie or Middleburgh libraries, leave donations at the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady, Market Block Books or the Book House in Colonie.
Esperance town Supervisor Earl Van Wormer said the town, which operates on a $500,000 annual budget, has spent $100,000 repairing Priddle Road so it can be traveled and $50,000 more repairing Ragan Road, which also was torn up by the storm.
Among the many complications in addressing the situation is the fact that some property owners are gone and it’s unclear where they went, Van Wormer said. That leaves some concern about just going onto someone’s property with heavy machinery to remove parts of a house that belongs to another.
Van Wormer said he’s been trying to get the Schoharie County emergency coordination team to help organize something to clear out Priddle Road but to no avail thus far.
Donna Mitchell of Memory Lane said many of the residents don’t have the wherewithal to remove portions of houses that are wedged between trees and it’s dangerous. She said the community needs heavy machinery.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Schenectady County