People filed into the Fort Plain Reformed Church on Canal Street Sunday morning, but instead of sitting reverently in the sanctuary, they signed a volunteer roster and then headed back out the door to help with the flood recovery effort.
“We’re living the word today,” said the Rev. Nancy Ryan, who was busy fielding questions from people offering assistance and others in need of it.
The basement of the massive brick church took on four or five feet of water Friday and there is cleaning up to do, but it’s nothing compared to what some local homeowners face.
“Their basements are totaled; their houses are totaled,” Ryan explained over the sound of the dump trucks and excavating equipment that rumbled down the street.
The dust the equipment disturbed — the dried remnants of creek mud — stung the eyes and throat, and the smell of mud was thick in the air.
Up and down the street, piles of ruined belongings were growing, but Ryan could also see God in the devastation that the swollen Otsquago Creek left behind.
“God is right in the muck with us, helping us clean it up,” she said. “This is a horrible mess and it’s disheartening to every one of us, but God has not left us. He’s right there with the neighbor who’s helping you to pump out, or the fireman who’s helping you to do the cleanup, and we’ll clean up together and we’ll rebuild together.”
She noted with sadness the disappearance of Ethel Healey, the 87-year-old Fort Plain resident who was presumably swept away in the raging waters along with her mobile home. As of Sunday evening, she had not been located, according to Fort Plain Police.
Ryan continued, “If that’s the most physical bodily harm that was done, all the rest is stuff; it’s just stuff. We have our families, we will rebuild and we will put it back together and I think that God is right in the midst of it, just saying, ‘Hope, help, be compassionate.’ ”
Signs of compassion were evident throughout the waterlogged village of Fort Plain as mud-caked volunteers pitched in to shovel out basements and haul ruined furnishings to the curb.
Church was canceled Sunday for village resident David Briggs, so instead he helped to remove ruined files, office equipment and decorations from the basement of the NBT Insurance Agency on Canal Street.
His home was spared, he said, but he knows others who weren’t as lucky.
“It’ll be all right. Tomorrow is another day,” he said with a tired smile.
At Fort Plain United Methodist Church on Center Street, Lynn Dunn, the wife of the Rev. Alan Griffith, was placing black plastic letters on a large sign at the corner of Center and Lydius streets Sunday morning. The sign didn’t advertise the topic of the upcoming sermon, but rather that food and supplies available to flood survivors.
Supplies, food delivered
Ten-year-old Elizabeth Failing, dressed in her Sunday best, approached the American Red Cross volunteers who were unloading bleach, cleanup kits, toiletry kits and cases of bottled water onto the church’s stone steps and offered to help.
The basement of her Center Street home had some mud in it, she said, but she was intent on finding a way to assist others.
“I know a lot of people’s houses got destroyed and I want to help them,” she said.
The Methodist church, which Elizabeth attends, became an impromptu haven for anyone needing assistance after the flooding.
From a worn-looking sheet of yellow notepaper, Griffith read the list of items that were distributed from there Saturday: two boxes of garbage bags, 24 pairs of gloves, 45 chicken sandwiches, 32 hot dogs, and the list went on.
Shelly Anelli, who lives on Lydius Street, was moved close to tears when she saw the cases of water and other supplies being unloaded onto the church’s steps Sunday. Her basement flooded Friday, ruining her furnace and hot water heater.
“I hope FEMA can help,” she said, the worry evident in her voice as she toted a case of bottled water toward home.
A service was scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Methodist church, but when the opening hymn started, only a handful of parishioners sat in the folding chairs in the downstairs room-turned-sanctuary.
It costs $50 just to turn the lights on in the massive upstairs worship space, Griffith said. With a congregation numbering 27 active families, using that space can’t be justified, except for weddings and holidays.
Jean MacIntyre, who lives on Lydius Street, was at the service. Her home was not damaged in the flooding but her lifestyle has been altered because of it.
“I feel really bad about the Save-a-Lot and the dollar store because I don’t have a car and that’s where I get a lot of my groceries and things that I need. I’m going to have to rely on people to take me places, so that will be very hard,” the senior citizen said.
She was able to see some good in the disaster, though.
“[God] has his reasons and I don’t know what they are,” she admitted. “Maybe it’s kind of a wake-up call to enjoy all that we have and watch what’s going on around us.”
Griffith said he thought the flood could be God’s way of reminding people that earthly things are temporal.
“There is more to life than things; there is the relationship of people getting along with people, reaching out and helping and doing things,” he explained.
The outpouring of support has been amazing, said Ryan, whose church will coordinate volunteer work parties at least through the middle of the week.
Many people have been calling to ask if they can donate clothing and other items, but it’s too soon for that sort of help, she noted.
Manual Labor sought
“What we need are bodies that are willing to come and carry debris to the road and muck out basements. At the end of the week and the beginning of next week we may start needing items,” she said.
Volunteers who come to Fort Plain to help are asked to bring gloves, buckets, shovels, bleach and water.
Salvation Army staff and volunteers were providing hot meals to residents of Herkimer and Mohawk, about 20 miles west of Fort Plain, which have been impacted by flooding. “By Sunday afternoon, we have served over 598 meals,” said Capt. Dorothy Budd of Cortland, who is serving as the finance and administration officer.
The American Red Cross will continue relief operations in Fort Plain today.
The Red Cross mobile kitchen will be giving out food at Harry Hoag Elementary School again. Both lunch and dinner will be available. According to the Red Cross, more than 500 hot meals were prepared and distributed on Sunday.
The shelter at the Elementary School is also expected to remain open until at least Tuesday, a Red Cross news release said. Health and Mental Health Services are available at the Elementary School as well.
Additional flooding is still a concern in the village, as more wet weather is forecast for the area this week.
A flash flood watch is in effect for most of the Capital Region from this morning until Tuesday morning.
According to a National Weather Service advisory issued Sunday afternoon, storms continuing until Tuesday could cause one to three inches of rain in the Capital Region, including Saratoga, Schenectady, Montgomery, Fulton and Schoharie counties. In some areas there could be more than four inches of rain. According to Vasil Koleci, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, the village of Fort Plain could receive between a half-inch and an inch of rain both today and Tuesday.
But flooding is still possible due to saturated soils in the area. Just one inch of rain could potentially cause flooding, said the advisory.
After 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the Schoharie Creek at Burtonsville is projected to reach the “near flood stage” level, according to the National Weather Service. The creek will begin to rise sharply after 5 p.m. today.
Meanwhile, the failure of a beaver dam prompted a flash flood warning for the southwestern part of Schoharie County on Sunday afternoon.
According to a National Weather Service advisory, the dam on Higgins Road in Jefferson failed shortly after 3 p.m..
Water released from the beaver pond, which measured approximately 600 feet by 600 feet, emptied into the west branch of the Delaware River and continued to the Stamford Reservoir.
The reservoir was able to absorb the additional water and no flooding occurred there or farther downriver, according to a dispatcher at the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Office.