With the first anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene at hand, those who counsel storm victims are readying for a wave of reactions.
“The anniversary will stir up emotions among people,” said Deborah Coyle, a field coordinator for Project Hope in Schoharie and Schenectady counties.
Various community events are planned, starting Sunday, to mark the devastating rains and flooding that swept from Gilboa to Rotterdam Junction and Schenectady’s Stockade.
Some will have the tones of celebrating recovery. But crisis counselors will be on hand at the events, and they expect to be busy, as they have been for most of the past year.
Depression, anger, crying, difficulty sleeping and anxiety can all be individual reactions, Coyle said, and they’re all normal, given the trauma residents have been through since last Aug. 28.
Project Hope, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and run through the state Office of Mental Health, has had 10,000 contacts with people in the last year, Coyle said. The staff includes 10 counselors and two therapists, in addition to herself.
“We help people develop resiliency,” she said.
With the anniversary, Coyle said, people will be telling stories and recalling the widespread flooding that ruined homes, devastated Schoharie Valley croplands and killed livestock — and it will bring back bad memories for some people.
“There’s a lot of emotion. It stirs things up,” Coyle said. “Our role is to help people understand these are normal emotions.”
The anniversary can be a triggering event for people who haven’t sought counseling before.
“From seeing television news footage of that day to overhearing conversations in the grocery store, people will be reminded what they went through when and after Tropical Storm Irene hit,” said Mike Bigley, another Project Hope field coordinator. “These triggers can cause people to turn back to that time, and that shift can be accompanied by some very powerful, and at times sudden, emotions.”
Project Hope counselors generally go out into the field and visit people at their homes, but they’re going to at the planned anniversary events to offer any assistance they can.
“Schoharie County One-Year Later, Country Strong,” which is being run by Schoharie Area Long Term Recovery, will take place from 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Schoharie County Fairground in Cobleskill. Admission is free. The storm struck on a Sunday, so some people expect that day to provoke reactions.
The actual anniversary date will be Tuesday. The Schoharie Promotional Association will hold a vigil at 6 p.m. in the county complex courtyard in Schoharie.
In Schenectady County, the Flood Recovery Coalition for Schenectady County will hold what it calls a celebration, “Schenectady County Remembers,” from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Mabee Farm in Rotterdam Junction. A documentary film will be shown.
At Schoharie Reformed Church, the Rev. Sherri Meyer-Veen, a leader in the community recover efforts, said she’ll be addressing the anniversary and its emotional impact during Sunday’s service.
“I think this is obviously a time when people cannot help but be emotionally low,” Meyer-Veen said. “For better or worse, it is a time for reflection on what has happened in the last year.”
In her sermon, Meyer-Veen said she’ll emphasize that parishioners will be better for what they’ve been through, and need to figure out ways to “pay forward” for the help provided by volunteers from across the country who came to the Schoharie Valley over the last year to help out.
“We are a resourceful people, and God will provide for us,” Meyer-Veen said. “This is probably the biggest thing people have ever dealt with, but we have gotten through it, and it has strengthened us.”