Flood-ravaged villages pause, say thanks

Flood-wrecked wood and debris sat piled outside a home on South Main Street in Schoharie on Monday a

Flood-wrecked wood and debris sat piled outside a home on South Main Street in Schoharie on Monday as vegetation outside another flooded home in the village began to reach higher than the “for sale” sign in front of it.

Farther to the south, in Middleburgh, the village’s only grocery store remained shuttered, displaying another “for sale” sign.

Some storefronts on Main Street in Middleburgh were vacant, but others appeared to be holding their ground after recovery from damage wrought by tropical storms Irene and Lee last year.

Though rebuilding is far from complete, local officials and business owners took some time Monday to celebrate progress and highlight the unique forms of help making it possible for residents and proprietors to return to some semblance of normal.

Leslie Price, who saw her J. Lacy Hair Salon wrecked like other operations on Main Street in Schoharie, expects to reopen the business in two weeks, an accomplishment she said wouldn’t be possible without help from the emergency assistance program National Grid put together weeks after the disaster.

“I don’t know how I would have done it,” she said, describing how floodwater inundated the building, tossing furniture and equipment around and rendering the business inoperable for more than nine months and counting.

Price is one of a few dozen business owners who have been able to put things back together with the help of National Grid’s $6 million Emergency Economic Development Program — an effort that represented the first instance of grant money to be made available to victims after the catastrophe.

So far, National Grid has distributed roughly $2 million in the region, money that’s helped restaurants, farms and small businesses repair damage that put a halt to their livelihoods.

The program was a first for the company whose employees took to rural roadways working to restore power in the midst of heavy rain and high winds, with roadways clogged by downed trees and harried valley residents fleeing for higher ground.

“Once the weather cleared, we saw the scope of the devastation here,” said William Flaherty, National Grid customer and community management director.

Though they had to restore power to 156,000 customers in the wake of the storms, the company’s employees went beyond their regular duties, volunteering to clean up and help rebuild important sites like Fox Creek Park in Schoharie.

One National Grid employee in particular, Jeff Van Deusen, was recognized Monday not only for his leadership in the face of tough conditions, but also for other things he did while he was working.

He serves as National Grid’s Cobleskill district line supervisor — he was charged with orchestrating power restoration in a post-disaster environment that surpassed the challenges of all the ice storms and other difficult situations he’s faced in 30 years as a lineman.

Van Deusen took numerous photographs of the devastation while organizing restoration.

He then worked with the Cobleskill Times Journal’s printing service and put the photos in a book that serves not only as a record of damage throughout his home county but also as a fundraiser for flood victims.

The book has been on sale for $15 since it was put together last year, and the proceeds — all of which go to the Schoharie County Community Action Program’s flood relief fund — have exceeded $40,000 so far.

Van Deusen said it’s hard to describe the success of the book, “Schoharie County Stronger than Irene.”

“I don’t know that I can put that into words,” said Van Deusen. But he said the scenes he captured while working to restore power — farmhouses teetering on collapse, entire crop fields covered with debris and residential areas strewn with furniture, photos and personal items — had to be shared.

“It’s something that needed to be done. I decided we needed to do something with all these pictures. Hopefully we’ll never see this again,” Van Deusen said.

The book remains available for sale at Kelley Farm & Garden and ACE Hardware, both in Cobleskill, at the Apple Barrel and the Carrot Barn, both in Schoharie, at the Middleburgh Hardware in the village of Middleburgh and at The Corner Store in Gallupville in the town of Wright.

Money people donated to flood victims when buying the 51-page picture book is included in $602,152 of individual donations collected by SCCAP since the floodwaters receded, said SCCAP board member Cherie Stevens.

That money has been distributed in the form of checks to 1,157 different entities including residents, businesses and churches in Schoharie County.

These numbers, she said, show that many — including donors from 38 states — are standing up to help their fellow Americans.

“We’re not on an island. People do care about each other. Schoharie County will survive and it’s coming back,” Stevens said.

Middleburgh Mayor Matthew Avitabile said the village is organizing a Volunteer Day from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Though the view down Route 30 shows a major improvement from the post-disaster scene nine months ago, Avitabile said there’s a lot more toil in store for residents and volunteers interested in helping with recovery.

“There’s a lot of not as easily seen damage from the storms,” he said.

Volunteers will be helping to clear silt and rocks from around homes and businesses, Avitabile said.

There’s still a couple village businesses closed, possibly for good. But the mayor said he sees signs showing the village is “coming back.”

“We’ve turned the corner,” Avitabile said.

National Grid’s Emergency Economic Development Program will be distributing funding through the end of this year.

But businesses and farms needing help must apply by Sept. 1. More information about the program can be found online at http://www.shovelready.com/EmergencyFunding.asp.

People interested in volunteering can contact the Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery at 702-5017; more information can be found online at saltrecovery.org.

Categories: Schenectady County

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