Down a street that no longer exists, across from a creek that dribbles by low and slow, past lawns with construction tape and soggy lumber, Gail Adamoschek stood on a wooden porch Saturday and looked out a window covered in plastic at a torrent of rain.
The pastor at River of Jubilee Church in Sprakers knows a lot about this house on Abbott Street, though it’s not hers.
“I know that the room on the other side of this wall is almost ready,” she said, dragging out the first syllable of the word “almost” longingly. “It’s almost there. It’s got to come down to 12 percent moisture and then we’re good.”
Twelve percent moisture content of the wood foundation is the magic number, the number at which homeowners and volunteers can begin to rebuild homes damaged in the late June flooding of the Otsquago Creek.
The wood was at 15.5 percent moisture content Saturday, the first of several Community Rebuilding Days members of the Fulton Montgomery County Long Term Recovery Committee plan to hold in the village in coming months. More than 100 volunteers spread out across nine sites, doing everything from demolition work and mold remediation to wallboard and plumbing.
The first step is, of course, the “muck outs and gut outs” as the volunteers call them. Many of the flood-affected homes in the village of Fort Plain have undergone these, but a handful are now public health risks and still in desperate need of a muck out. After the mucking and then the gutting of wallboard, insulation, floors and everything that’s not the bare bones skeleton, the airing out begins.
Just recently, a homeowner on Abbott Street reached the 12 percent moisture content in his foundation and began rebuilding. Adamoschek thinks he was the first along the devastated street, but she bets 12 Abbott St. will be next.
“When you do a moisture check, this is what you want to use,” she said, fingering a small handheld meter that provides a readout of moisture content, “because by going like this,” she continues, running her hand along a wooden beam in what was once likely a living room, “you go, ‘Oh, hmm, this feels dry, it must be OK.’ But if this meter doesn’t read at 12 percent moisture, it’s not OK, and it will grow black mold.”
One group of volunteers was building a trench around a house on Reid Street to shore up the foundation. Reid falls on the other side of the creek from Abbott and was also badly hit by the flood. On Saturday, at least two “for sale” signs dotted the lawns of houses. A few homes were missing chunks of their structures. Others sat condemned, an orange paper sign sitting in a porch window or tacked to a tree. The foundations and porches, railings and lawns of homes along the street remain covered with the stain of flooding. Backyards drop off precipitously where the creek waters carved new banks.
“We’re doing things as they are ready,” said Matt Ossenfort, co-chair of the Fulton Montgomery County Long Term Recovery Committee. “One of the issues we’re dealing with is some of the homes aren’t dry enough yet to begin work. So this is something we want to do every few weekends moving forward.”
The village has a great need for skilled volunteers, he said, particularly in foundation and electrical work.
The sheer number of volunteers who have come out to help since the flood is still impressive, said Ossenfort. Churches, nonprofits, small businesses and corporations have all come together to sit on different subcommittees of the recovery committee, and have lent their time and help. The hardest thing for him to see, though, is the psychological toll the flooding has taken on people.
“I’m talking people who have had this happen three times in five years,” he said. “We can rebuild the houses, but whether it’s a fear of water or not going back to a house you’ve lived in for 30 years, I think that’s really the toughest thing to heal. It’s not as easy as going into Home Depot, buying Sheetrock and throwing it up. That’s easy.”
When the Failings, the retired homeowners at 12 Abbott St., became overwhelmed by the big task in front of them, volunteers were able to give them quick peace of mind. In particular, a family in the Schoharie County town of Blenheim whose own home was damaged by Tropical Storm Irene two years ago was quick to reassure them, said Adamoschek.
“They had 42 inches of water in their house,” she said, “and our church and others in the Mohawk Valley went down and helped them and totally restored the place. So they came up here to help on this house and were like, ‘Hey, we’re paying it forward.’ The couple here in this house said, ‘You know, I don’t think we can come through this,’ and the family was awesome. They said, ‘Calm down, it’s OK. Teams will come in. They’ll get it all ripped up and help you rebuild. Help will come, you watch and see.’ ”