A plea for volunteers had been issued just one day earlier, yet at least 25 parishioners — some whose homes had been ruined — were at St. Patrick Church in Owego Sept. 25 for three hours’ worth of hauling debris from the school and church hall.
"Thank you guys so much, you’re wonderful," Diane Snyder-Bell, business manager for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, called to workers who were starting back home.
This effort was typical of the massive support from the Rochester Diocese and beyond as Tioga County and other parts of the Southern Tier began the long road to recovery from historic early-September flooding.
"We’ve got a lot of volunteers, but it’s some very long days. They’re crazy," Snyder-Bell remarked to the Catholic Courier.
The disaster was caused by heavy rainfall from the remnants of tropical storms Irene and Lee, causing the Susquehanna River to reach flood stage early Sept. 7 and rise to record levels over the next two days. A major disaster was declared Sept. 13 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for Tioga County, in the Diocese of Rochester’s southeast corner; Broome County, just to Tioga’s east in the Syracuse Diocese; and many surrounding communities. Parts of Chemung and Tompkins counties in this diocese were affected as well.
Most of Tioga’s four Catholic church campuses took in at least a little water and lost electricity for a few days. Still, Sunday Masses were held Sept. 10-11 at all Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick worship sites: St. Patrick, Owego; St. James, Waverly; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; and St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin. Snyder-Bell said only 15 people surfaced at St. Patrick for the Saturday-evening Mass, "but it was well worth it because that’s what those people needed." Bishop Matthew H. Clark lent spiritual support by visiting St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary at Masses on Sept. 18.
Although none of the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick churches were significantly affected, Father William Moorby, pastor, noted that the halls at St. James and St. John the Evangelist, as well as religious-education classrooms at St. Margaret Mary, incurred some harm.
The greatest damage was on the St. Patrick campus — particularly its school, which had water up to the basement ceiling, forcing much of the building’s lower level to be gutted. Meanwhile, the church hall had two feet of water and suffered significant structural damage, losing most of its appliances from a newly renovated kitchen as well. Snyder-Bell said it’s still too early to assess the overall dollar amount of the losses, but that all damage appears to be covered by insurance.
"I think we’re going to be in good shape," she said.
After no classes the week of Sept. 12-16, St. Patrick School resumed operation Sept. 19 at the Our Lady of Good Counsel school building in Endicott, which is lending space for St. Patrick’s kindergarten through fifth grade and 4-year-old prekindergarten. The 3-year-old prekindergarten is holding classes in the McAuley Center on the St. Patrick campus. Snyder-Bell said St. Patrick School will hopefully be usable again by mid-October.
Along with significant volunteer help, the recovery has been aided by such organizations as Catholic Charities and the American Red Cross which have organized and provided meals, shelter, cash, food, clothing, personal-care products and cleaning supplies and kits. A special second collection, at the request of Bishop Clark, was held throughout the diocese on or near the weekend of Sept. 24-25. Donations will be coordinated by diocesan Catholic Charities and its regional offices for flood relief.
Examples of further assistance in this diocese have come from St. Patrick Parish in Victor, which has gathered nonperishable food items; St. Anthony Church in Groton, which has a basket in the vestibule for donations of food and supplies; and several Catholic schools staging collections for St. Patrick School. Father Moorby noted that a Catholic school in Orlando, Fla., is even pitching in by taking up a collection.
This support is greatly welcomed as Tioga grapples with flooding for the second time in recent years: damage also was caused by an overflowing Susquehanna River in 2006. However, this year’s flood was much more widespread due to a larger volume of water. According to Angela Klopf, director of Catholic Charities Tioga Outreach Center in Waverly, 2,492 Tioga County households had applied for FEMA assistance as of Sept. 28 compared to 800 in 2006.
Klopf said Sept. 23 that many people were still displaced from their homes, staying in emergency shelters or with friends and relatives; and several had lost their vehicles as well. She added that whereas much media coverage has focused on the city of Binghamton and village of Owego, many smaller communities — Candor, Apalachin, Nichols, Tioga Center and Barton, to name a few — also were devastated and need the same level of support.
"They’re in just as bad condition," she said.
People in these communities have begun the arduous process of removing mud and debris from their homes and businesses as they try to ward off the onset of mold and restore proper heating before winter.
"The area is trying to pick the garbage up as quick as possible, but it keeps coming," Klopf said, noting that donations of gift cards for restaurants, department stores, home-supply stores and gas stations would be especially helpful for flood victims.
Klopf observed that many people can be seen wearing masks and gloves to safeguard against contamination.
"It’s still surreal," she said. "It’s like something you have to drive here and experience. It’s another world."
Contains reporting by Jennifer Burke.
Relief available; volunteers and funds need
If you or somebody you know is in need of flood relief, call Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick Parish at 607-687-1068 or Tioga Outreach Center at 607-565-7580. In addition, Tioga County Rural Ministry, 143 North Ave., Owego, is open and well-stocked for anybody who needs food. Call 607-687-3021.
Many Tioga-area organizations and businesses are offering food, water, clothes, cleaning items, personal-care products and school supplies. For a listing of these outlets, read the Sept. 25 Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick bulletin at www.blessed-trinity-parish.org.
Volunteers and donations are needed by Tioga Outreach Center to assist in flood recovery. To volunteer, contact Angela Klopf, director, at 607-565-7580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To make a contribution, send a check designated for flood relief to Tioga Outreach, 464 Broad St., Waverly, NY 14892.