Duanesburg flood victims frustrated by governments

Only a half-dozen town homeowners were hit by the flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene, but

Lise Holland doesn’t feel like a multi-millionaire.

The swollen Schoharie Creek slammed into her home on Old Highway 30 in late August, washing away everything except an overnight bag of clothes she grabbed. The kitchen designer living on a modest income was hoping for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but ended up with nothing as a result of a major error on her application.

When the paperwork came back, Holland’s annual income was listed as $4.2 million. The immediate disaster assistance that would have gone toward buying her clothes and supplies instead went to her mortgage company.

She tried pointing out the error during a visit to the disaster center at the Rotterdam Square mall, only to find a new set of paperwork still listing her income incorrectly. She repeatedly called and sent emails to the agency, only to be met with more bureaucracy.

“Now I have to prove to them that I don’t make $4.2 million,” she said Wednesday.

And she’s running out of time. The deadline to register claims with FEMA is less than two weeks away, and Holland still hasn’t received word on her flood insurance claim, a necessary prerequisite for additional federal assistance.

While Holland’s problems are with federal paperwork, other town residents face issues with local government. Only a half-dozen homeowners were hit by the flooding associated with Tropical Storm Irene, but their losses aren’t any less real than the devastated communities upstream.

Holland’s home was located near the Route 20 bridge over the Schoharie Creek and was quickly wiped out by the rushing water. There was little to clean from her property since most of it was washed downstream.

Some other flood-affected areas were left to molder for weeks after the flood, leaving some residents to question the response from their own town. Laurie Meyer, a volunteer with the Duane Lions Club, said her organization ended up assisting four families hurt by the flood after it became apparent the town wasn’t doing anything.

“The lack of response from the town has been bewildering,” she said.

The Lions were the first to help Marilyn and Ambrose Relyea, a couple in their late 70s, after flood water inundated the finished basement and part of the first floor of their ranch-style home. Meyer said little had been moved out of the moldy home before they got there roughly five weeks after the flood.

Marilyn Relyea said she and her husband evacuated the evening before the flood and returned once the water receded. She said the devastation left behind was more than they could comprehend.

“It just missed going into the main house by 2 inches,” she said, pointing to the high water mark in her living room.

The flood left mold and buckled the floors of the home the Relyeas built in the 1960s. Relyea said she now fears they may have to pull out the western cedar paneling her husband put in himself.

“We didn’t know where to start,” she said over the hum of a dehumidifier. “We had never been in a flood before.”

The Relyeas credited Highway Superintendent Steve Perog for providing a town dump truck to haul away the waste cleaned out by the Lions. The Lions paid for the diesel to fuel the trucks and the tipping fees for a transfer station to accept the waste.

Perog wasn’t sure if he reacted properly following the flood, since he never received approval to bring town-owned equipment onto private property. But after seeing residents struggle to clean up, he said he was compelled to help them in some capacity as a town official.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. Meyer acknowledged the town has waived the fees for building permits in the flooded area, but she called on them to take the next step by fast-tracking the permitting process, so residents can rebuild before winter.

Town Board member Charles Leon credited the Lions for the work they’ve done so far, but he said the response from the town was both “appropriate and sufficient.”

“Frankly I don’t see what more the town could have done,” he said. “There are limits to what the town can do.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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