Off the tiny cul de sac known as Lost Valley Road, a creekside community that existed Saturday would be destroyed within 24 hours.
But the residents didn’t know it. They didn’t expect it. And they certainly weren’t prepared for it.
On Thursday, 81-year-old Jean Oathout’s daughter and granddaughters combed through mud, fallen trees and the collective debris of her life.
“We found a piece of her porch, but we haven’t really found any of her house,” said Paula Ingerham, from a makeshift road between the Schoharie Creek and a fresh clearing on Island Road where homes once sat in the town of Florida.
A caved-in skeleton of the home could be seen about 20 feet from its concrete foundation. It’s the foundation Oathout’s late husband raised in 1996 after a flood sent 14 inches of water into the home.
When forecasters warned of possible flooding in upstate New York during Hurricane Irene, Oathout didn’t anticipate that the house she lived in for nearly 40 years would be wiped away. So when water began to inundate the valley, she grabbed her dog and a suitcase and left.
“My brother got down here at the last minute with his four-wheel drive and grabbed out her important papers, and that was all he had time for,” said Ingerham.
By Thursday, three more counties in New York state were added to the federal disaster aid list that would provide Individual Assistance to homeowners, renters and small businesses. Montgomery County hasn’t been approved for IA yet, despite a slew of state leaders urging the federal government to help.
But the county could hear as soon as today whether it qualifies.
County Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow met with FEMA representatives Thursday morning to assess storm damage in the city of Amsterdam, Fonda, Fultonville, Fort Johnson and Fort Hunter.
“We are obviously hoping for the best,” said Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Jeff Kaczor. “They’re going back to Albany to start the paperwork, and hopefully we have a positive outcome out of this.”
So residents in Montgomery County are forced to wait as they make itemized lists of damage done to their property to pass on to town supervisors. County officials will then request aid for their hard-hit communities.
Oathout and her family don’t even know where to start with their list. They would be better off making a list of any property that’s left, they said.
“This was the chair that used to be in my grandmother’s house,” said Brenda Kiddle, 27. A tree stump and its roots sat on top of the blue chair.
“We found a few [pictures] scattered all the way down here,” Ingerham said, pointing to the creek bed.
“There used to be a camp right where that pile of stuff is,” said Jean’s daughter, Cindy Prew, pointing to a tiny heap of debris.
As the county waits to qualify for Individual Assistance, it’s doing what it can to ready businesses in the region for possible aid.
The Montgomery County Business Development Center is asking that business owners send in any information that might help them receive direct assistance through federal aid programs.
Businesses that could be eligible for aid include the following: a business that sustained damage preventing it from re-opening; a business that needs to be entirely or largely reconstructed; or a business whose operations were affected by interruption of services due to public infrastructure damage like water, sewer, roads, bridges or power.
There aren’t many businesses in the hamlet of Lost Valley. And following Hurricane Irene, there aren’t many homes.
As Oathout’s family packed what they could salvage Thursday into two cars, they wondered where Jean would decide to settle down again.
“She’s not coming back here,” said Prew. “She’s not rebuilding. She’s done here.”