When major flooding in the Southern Tier last summer forced firefighters to evacuate residents, people had little time to collect their life’s treasures before escaping to safety.
Such was the case for Joan, who said she lost everything in the rising waters of the Susquehanna River.
“All my family pictures are gone now,” said Joan, who asked that her last name not be used. “I’ve cried so much. I’ve lost everything, and mostly it’s what my husband had put into the home. He remodeled it all, and everything he did was gone. So much of the house reminded me of him. That’s what bothered me the most. It’s devastating.”
Joan’s husband passed away suddenly four years ago at the age of 55. They had lived in their home for more than three decades without any problems, until water flooded the basement in 2005. The Federal Emergency Management Agency assisted with the cleanup of Joan’s home, and since the flooding appeared to be a fluke, Joan never purchased flood insurance.
Last June’s storm dumped 8 to 15 inches of rain on the Southern Tier, causing an unexpected amount of flooding and destruction to many homes, including Joan’s.
“My son went back into my house three days later, and he was in waist-deep water,” Joan said. “It took over a week for the water just to recede, and we just kept trying to pump the water out.”
Joan soon learned that she did not qualify for FEMA assistance because she didn’t purchase flood insurance after her basement flooded in 2005.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “I had no idea it was mandatory to apply for flood insurance, and now I don’t qualify for any help from FEMA. The house suffered about $80,000 in damage. It’s pretty extensive, so I haven’t been able to live in my home. I’ve been staying with friends.”
It’s been a trying time for Joan, not only due to the flood’s aftermath, but because last spring she discovered that her breast cancer had returned and had spread to her spine.
“I try to just remember to trust God,” she said tearfully. “I’m under treatment now, and I realize treatment will be a lifelong thing for me.”
Joan’s illness resulted in her decision to retire from her job of 25 years at Lockheed Martin. Her retirement plans include spending more time with her son, daughter and four grandchildren. She also has a goal of moving back into her home by the spring of 2007.
To accomplish this, Joan, like many of her neighbors displaced by the flood, has been assisted by various state and local agencies. In addition, she has received assistance from Catholic Charities of the Southern Tier’s Tioga Outreach Center, which used money from the annual Catholic Courier/Catholic Charities Christmas Appeal to help flood victims.
According to Angela Klopf, director of the Tioga Outreach Center, this support has been crucial.
“No one expected this flood,” Klopf said. “So it took everyone by surprise. That’s why we have so many people in need.”
The outreach center has served as the central point for flood victims, from which the center’s staff either refers residents to appropriate agencies or mobilizes its own funds and volunteers.
Klopf indicated that there are now about 30 families being directly helped by the outreach center. Those families have been identified as needing more intensive help due to age or medical issues.
“We’ve really had some great volunteers,” Klopf said. “They pair up and go work on the homes, and we’ve been able to stretch every dollar. There are three streets in Owego right now that if you drove down, you’d be amazed with the condition they are in. They look like they should be condemned. Quite a few people are just living on the second floors of their homes now, because the first floors are not usable. Recovery will definitely be a long process, and people do have a hard time with asking for help. I would say Joan didn’t even want to ask for help, but I’m glad we’ve been able to work with her.”
Joan agreed that asking for help was difficult.
“I’ve always been the one volunteering and giving the help, so it’s a real switch for me,” she said. “I was the one in need this time, and God answered that need. Everyone has just been so gracious, and believe it or not, things could have been worse. With the flood, God makes you realize it’s just stuff. It’s the relationships and love for each other that counts.”
“My life right now has been a humbling experience,” continued Joan, who is a member of Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County. “The Bible says that God will never forsake you or leave you, especially the widows and orphans. I’ve truly lived that. He has taken care of me through friends, agencies and neighbors. I’m so grateful. There just aren’t enough words to express. I have grown a lot in the last year, because of all the suffering I’ve had. That’s a good thing, with my friends and family, affirming the positive. It helps you move forward.”