The recently reconvened Montgomery County Long Term Recovery Committee saw Hurricane Sandy’s near miss as a reminder to stay on task.
“We got away relatively unscathed,” said disaster case manager Valerie Bochenek, “but most people aren’t aware that a lot of their neighbors haven’t yet recovered from the last one.”
The group’s mission is simply to help residents recover from disasters long after state and FEMA funds are exhausted and plan for future disasters.
Bochenek described it as county residents’ move to take control of their own destiny.
“FEMA has come and gone,” she said. “It’s time we start taking care of our own.”
She and one other case manager, both of whom work at Catholic Charities in Amsterdam, are in charge of locating families and property owners who haven’t yet recovered from Tropical Storm Irene.
They’re currently working through a list of residents who received some FEMA help last year.
“Homeowners are often too independent to ask for help,” she said, which is why she has to actively check up on past disaster victims.
Even a year later, the list is long. Bochenek recounted visiting families who still haven’t replaced their gas furnaces, houses with roofs in disrepair and basements that have yet to dry out completely.
Such cases are brought to the committee, made up of a dozen community, charity and faith leaders who then gather resources and volunteers to help.
According to co-chairwoman Lauren Bibby, so far the committee has mostly been doing footwork.
“They key word in long-term recovery committee is ‘long,’ ” she said, adding that after months of planning, they are finally nearing the point where actual work can begin.
The committee was initially formed years ago to help bring the county back after the 2006 flood but stopped meeting before Irene.
“They thought 2006 was a once-in-a-lifetime disaster,” Bibby said.
In February the group started back up, but after such a long dormant period everything had to be restructured.
Now their largest challenge is putting materials in the hands of volunteers.
“There is one guy on Lost Valley Road south of Amsterdam who has a gully behind his house full of propane tanks, refrigerators and all sorts of trash washed in by the flood,” Bochenek said. “We need volunteers to clean the place up, but we also need a place to put everything.”
She explained that while many would volunteer to clean, or fix roofs if asked, committee members also have to line up building materials, trash bins and qualified building contractors to head things up. It’s a lot to coordinate.
While the group works to bring the area back from Irene, Bibby said they will also help to minimize the effects of future storms.
She cited Schoharie and Schenectady counties as good examples of long-term recovery committees helping to organize volunteer efforts.
“Sandy was a good reminder that it’s not a matter of if we’ll have another disaster,” she said. “It’s a matter of when.”
To donate money, time or building materials, especially lumber, paint and shingles, call Valerie Bochenek’s Catholic Charities office at 842-4202 or Lauren Bibby’s United Way office at 842-6650.