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Foss: For people hard-hit by Irene, Harvey is tough

Foss: For people hard-hit by Irene, Harvey is tough

'The thing that's hard for me is that I'm not in a position to do anything to help'
Foss: For people hard-hit by Irene, Harvey is tough
Floodwater rises and spills over South Grand Street and onto the Sunshine Fairgrounds in Cobleskill in September 2011.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

Elaine Berg was living in Cobleskill when Hurricane Irene hit. 

She's witnessed first-hand the devastation caused by heavy rainfall and severe flooding — and is now witnessing something frighteningly similar in Texas. 

"In Houston, the size of the problem is so much greater," Berg told me when I reached her on the phone. "When you begin to see the scope of this, it becomes overwhelming." 

RELATED: Local volunteers head south in wake of hurricane

Berg, 75, retired to Cypress, Texas, a suburb of Houston, about a year ago to be closer to family.  

Her two-story home hasn't been flooded — "in the area where I live, there's good drainage" — but she's stayed indoors since it began, waiting for Hurricane Harvey to pass. Her concern, she said, lies with the storm's many victims. 

"The thing that's hard for me is that I'm not in a position to do anything to help," Berg said. "I had surgery and I'm still recovering."

How to help — it's a question a lot of us us are asking this week, as reports of harrowing rescues and people displaced from their homes on a mass scale dominate the news. With so many Americans struggling to stay safe, the desire to help is natural, especially for those who have lived in a community heavily impacted by flooding.  

It took years to recover from hurricanes Irene and Lee, and it will take even longer for the fourth-largest city in America to rebuild from the massive storm that is already being described as one of the worst flood disasters in U.S. history. 

On Monday I spoke with Sarah Goodrich, the executive director of SALT, an organization founded in the aftermath of hurricanes Irene and Lee to aid with flood relief and recovery in Schoharie County. 

Goodrich said she expected many residents would be moved to assist victims of Hurricane Harvey, either financially or perhaps as part of a volunteer effort. After all, it wasn't so very long ago that volunteers were descending upon Schoharie County to help rebuild.  

"I'm sure people will want to (help)," Goodrich said. "Once you experience something like that, you can't help but have a sense of empathy and compassion for someone else going through it." 

Monday marked the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Irene's arrival in the Capital Region.  

Goodrich told me that the anniversary of the storm is hard for those who lived through Irene and its aftermath — and that this year was made even more harder by ominous reports of Harvey's approach. 

"This time of year is always difficult," Goodrich said. "People get anxious. We've been working hard to get past that." 

It's not surprising that bad storms would bring back bad memories for those hard-hit by Irene and Lee. 

But it still saddens me to hear that people are still struggling to move on emotionally. 

In recent years, SALT's focus has shifted, from flood recovery to economic development, flood preparedness and strengthening community. 

"So many people stepped up at the time of the flood," Goodrich said. "Many have continued to volunteer and serve their community in ways they never did [before the flood]. ... Our focus has been on improving things. [Harvey] almost feels like a step backward. It has made people stop and remember." 

The last time I spoke with Berg, it was 2011. 

A Lutheran pastor, she was serving as dean of the Foothills Conference of the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She had also helped to found SALT. 

On Monday, Berg described the scene outside her window - one of near-constant rain since Friday. 

"Sometimes there's a brief break, then it starts up again," she said. "The storm is hardly moving." 

One bright spot: the number of people, such as Goodrich, who have been in touch with Berg throughout the storm.  

"I've been able to communicate," Berg told me. "People have been wonderful about checking in on me." 

Checking in on a friend in the path of the storm is the least you can do. 

The big question, after the waters recede, is what remains to be done, and what the rest of us can do to help. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog can be read here.

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