A Flood Story from the Southern Tier
Editor's Note: Since several people have been asking for "flood coverage," and neither Natalie nor I live in the effected areas, I asked my mother if she would put down a few thoughts of her own about the terrible June-July floods in the Binghamton area. She graciously agreed to help out and sent me this post the other day. I hope that it helps those who live in the rest of Upstate and areas beyond to understand the plight of my homeland and the strength that people can find within themselves and each other when the chips are down. -Jesse
I woke up very early on the morning of Wednesday, June 28 to torrential downpours just like it had been doing for the last three days, with Broome County being in a State of Emergency due to the flooding. I turned on the tv and was stunned to see a filmclip, which was shown nationwide, of a house in from the Conklin area, that had been knocked right off its foundation by a gas explosion into the river and was floating downstream.
I received calls all day long from my family and friends with updated reports on the roads being closed and the waters approaching their homes. I offered my home, up on a hill, as a sanctuary to a few families that were quite concerned that day. Evacuation shelters were set up, one at the high school my sons went to. This was day one of the flood.
The second day, I went into work, in downtown Binghamton. I was told to evacuate by 8:30 a.m. as the flood walls, just a few blocks away, were leaking and officials were afraid that they would collapse and the downtown area would be awash with dirty muddy sewage-filled waters. By that day, I started getting reports of people I knew who had water in their first floor homes. One basement was filled with water and when it receded thru the foundation, a large fish was found swimming around!!!
Day two was the day that I noticed that the local Gander Mountain, Toy R Us, our local Johnson City park and an adjoining neighborhood was covered with about 7 feet of water from a small little creek running behind it. I wondered "where did all this water come from? It was a tiny creek"
By the third day, many helicopters were flying over my property. Local events were being cancelled and centers were set up for food and clothing collection. By then we knew the water treatment plants were flooded as were the sewage treatment centers. Raw sewage was not only in the river, it had entered into many people’s homes. By now, the waters had receded in some areas and one can see the layer of mud covering everything in its path.
On July 4 my husband spent the day tearing out soaking wet, moldy carpeting and linoleum from a relative’s house, while I volunteered at the Emergency Disaster Relief Center in Binghamton. I heard first hand, at this center and from people I know at work the following days, what it was like to wake up at 2:00 a.m. and hear the river break out every window in your home and gush into your house. I heard how, even though people in the village of Deposit were cut off from the world for 5 days, houses and businesses flooded, no electricity, roads closed, no cell phone coverage, no outside relief…how they banded together and helped one another until they could be helped.
My former co-worker’s basement was completely flooded, her mother’s home is condemmed and she lost everything. The water sat in her home for 3 days without receding. She was told, once it receded that she could enter her house on a limited basis for only two days to retrieve items. After that the black mold would be a major health problem and the wooden floors would begin cracking. The trailer park down the street from her had trailers pulled right off the ground and flushed down the river, as were a few homes that were pulled right off their foundations and moved by the force of the water. And still, with all this devastation to her hometown and her family, she and her firefighter husband loaded up trucks and trucks of food and water and spent about a week delivering these needed items to people that "were truly in need".
At the relief center, I sat and listened to the people who lost everything. By that time there were no tears. It was more of being in a state of disbelief. They talked of being so terrified by the violent waters, that they couldn’t even grab their wallets, nor car keys to drive away. They literally jumped out of bed and ran out of their homes. As my son mentioned in one of his postings, there was an elderly man who came up to my table, barefooted, and asked where he could get shoes. And this was 6 days after the flooding. There was a young mother who asked if anyone had any diapers for her baby.
There were others that had spent days and days cleaning out the mud and sewage out of friend’s basements and were worried about disease. Many people came looking for cleaning kits that the Red Cross and Salvation Army were providing. Others, when I asked if they needed such a kit, responded that there entire house was so filled with mud and a mop and sponge wouldn’t help.
I remember a woman who owns flooded apartment buildings; she took in all her tenants in her own home and came into the relief center to see if she could receive some assistance in feeding all of them. The gas station next door to the apartment dwelling never recycled their oil from oil changes. These barrels were knocked over by the waters and the oil spread into the apartments. The landlady said she can see, on all the apartment windows, where the oily water reached. The buildings are condemmed because of it.
Then there were the trailers and homes that exploded due to natural gas and propane problems.
I sat next to the DMV table and I saw the blank looks when people came to them, asking how they can handle their "lost cars" and they were told they needed to provide a car title and pay a $15 fee. These people lost everything, including all important papers. How can they prove which car belonged to them?
I also noticed one young couple come to the center, only to get very upset and overwhelmed and storm out. Others, had little books where they kept lists and lists of things they needed to do in order to rebuild their lives again. It seems so overwhelming to go thru all that red tape in the best of times, I can’t imagine doing it under such stress.
All the people I saw, no matter how distraught they were, were all so very thankful. And the volunteers I saw were incredibly compassionate. I was truly touched and it still brings tears to my eyes how people in this community reached out to strangers.
The media coverage in this area was excellent. But it just does not compare to actually sitting and listening to people talk about how their lives have been completely destroyed within seconds.
I had read and heard how Susquehanna High School in Conklin, the hardest hit town in this area, was the drop off for all the debris from the damaged homes in that area. There were mountains and mountains of moldy, wet, muddy items that were hauled to the dump.
Tonight, on the way home from a friend’s house in this area, I drove down a few roads near the river. This is 2 weeks after the flooding. Many of the homes have been condemmed and marked with a huge red X near the front door. It is shocking to see it. It just does not seem real. Can you imagine looking at your own home, having it marked as such and realizing that you can never enter that building again?
Each of these condemmed buildings still had piles of, what looked like dirty rubbish, piled in front. On closer view, I realized that the "junk" were once someone’s treasures. Now they are thrown near the road, to be picked over by scavenger people (yes, they are out in force).
The mental health counselor who was stationed next to me at the relief center had experience "at Katrina", as did the many Emergency Disaster Relief personnel from the Red Cross. I asked this counselor what she could possibly tell the flood victims to bring them some emotional relief. Besides the usual words, she mentioned that these people lost their identity. They lost their heritage and the sense of who they are. We surround our living quarters with memories and symbols of where we came from, who we are and where we might be going to. Whether you live in a small trailer, a basement apartment or a lavish house, your home is the place you go to, to feel secure. It is the place that is truly an outlet of who you are as a unique human being.
This is what was lost for the many flood victims. One can replace refrigerators and clothing. But it is the sense of identity that will be the most difficult to reclaim.
My heart goes out to each and every one of flood victims. And I look at awe and deep admiration at the many many people in the Broome and Tioga Counties who have stopped their own lives to help those in need.