U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Phil Parr, coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured Schoharie and Schenectady counties on Sunday to inspect the damage left behind in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and U.S. Senator Kristen Gillibrand toured areas of destruction in the Capital Region last week, Schumer visited the area for the first time Sunday morning in hopes of gaining more federal funding for the two counties hit hardest locally.
“The devastation here in the Capital Region and on through Schoharie is unimaginable, and it’s clear we need the full support of the federal government to help get things back on track,” Schumer said in a news release during his visit. He pledged to fight as hard as he can for further support.
Places visited include the emergency operations center in Cobleskill, downtown Schoharie, and Rotterdam Junction in Schenectady County. Schumer called what he saw “very troubling,” adding, “You don’t see destruction like this often.”
In Schoharie County, Schumer said he went down streets where people’s entire lives were now gone, and in Rotterdam Junction he was touched by the hundreds of people there helping to clean up the neighborhood.
He also spent time at Schenectady County Community College, where the cost to repair the damage caused by Irene is estimated by college officials to be $1 million.
Several feet of water flooded the basement of Begley Hall and the copy and mail room of Elston Hall, according to SCCC President Quintin B. Bullock. Water also got into the elevator shaft of Elston Hall and an electrical service station.
Because of the damage, the start of classes was postponed from Tuesday to Thursday to give time for the parking lot to dry out and the electricity to come back on. A temporary headquarters was set-up at Center City so the college can hold faculty and department meetings and process payroll.
Schumer said the federal government has granted both individual and public assistance to Schoharie County but Schenectady only received individual aid, which could be a problem for the college.
The senator said public assistance is defined as federal aid made available to the public and certain nonprofit entities for emergency services and repairs of public facilities damaged in a natural disaster. If the college is unable to get the federal aid, it could be responsible for coming up with the $1 million for needed repairs. Schumer said the county and college should not have to shoulder that burden alone.
“There’s a lot broken in Washington, but FEMA is one of those organizations doing a good job,” Schumer said. “They’re not one of these agencies that is rigid. Some think it shouldn’t exist, but New Yorkers helped during Hurricane Katrina and the rest of the country should be here for us now.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has estimated that $1 billion in damage has been caused by Irene in New York, but the federal disaster relief fund currently holds just $792 million in available aid. Schumer said he is now pushing to have additional money added to the fund since New York’s damage is expected to exceed the total and additional funds have already been allocated from previous disasters.
GILBOA DAM REPORT
Elsewhere in post-Irene developments, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection submitted a storm incident report on Saturday showing that the Gilboa Dam was deemed structurally safe before and after the storm “upon inspections and engineer analysis by outside and in-house safety experts.” The report showed the dam at no point leaked or incurred significant erosion, and was sound before, during and after the storm, DEP said. The dam sustained minor damage from the storm, but is undergoing a $350 million scheduled upgrade that will eventually continue.
Elsewhere in the county, five Point of Distribution locations have been established in the villages of Schoharie, Middleburg, Blenheim, Gallupville, and Esperance to pick-up water and ready-to-eat meals. The locations will operate from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week until all needs are meet, according to an announcement from FEMA.
In Blenheim and Gallupville the distribution points are located at the local fire stations. In Schoharie it is located at the County Building, in Middleburg at the elementry school and in Esperance at the Elks Lodge on Rt. 20.
Most meals are being provided through the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross requested that the Southern Baptist Convention send its mobile kitchen to assist with the hurricane relief efforts. The kitchen can produce between 10,000 and 15,000 meals a day and is currently operating at the Trinity Baptist Church in Niskayuna. The meals are then sent out to communities throughout the area by Red Cross volunteers.
In addition, several new recovery centers have also been opened locally by the state and federal government. They will begin today to assist those who suffer damage at the Holiday Inn Express in Schoharie, the Social Services Office in Troy, and the Rotterdam Square mall in Rotterdam. Each is now designated a disaster relief location for those who need help registering for federal aid or need assistance from the American Red Cross or Salvation Army.
Residents and business owners with damage were urged to register with FEMA online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or at FEMA’s mobile website, m.fema.gov. Individuals can also call 800-621-FEMA (3362).
FEMA is also encouraging residents who became unemployed as a direct result of the hurricane may be eligible for the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program.
Twenty New York counties are eligible, including Schenectady, Saratoga, Schoharie, Montgomery, Rensselaer and Albany counties. The program is designed to help people whose employment was “interrupted” by the disaster and who are otherwise ineligible for state unemployment benefits.
To apply for DUA call the Telephone Claims Center at 1-888-209-8124. The deadline to apply is Oct. 3.