Neighborhood streets lined with piles of soiled and ruined belongings have become familiar sights for residents of Owego, Apalachin and other Tioga County communities in the days since the early September flood that devastated much of their communities.
"People have lost everything. You just see everyone’s home has got mountains of stuff outside," said Diane Snyder-Bell, business manager for Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes, which comprises St. Patrick, Owego; St. John the Evangelist, Newark Valley; St. James, Waverly; and St. Margaret Mary, Apalachin; as well as St. Pius X in Van Etten, which has been closed since 2009.
The Southern Tier flooding was caused by heavy rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. The rains fell onto ground already saturated by equally heavy rainfall brought by Tropical Storm Irene in late August and caused many rivers, creeks and streams to flood their banks. The Susquehanna River reached flood stage early Sept. 7 and continued to rise throughout the next two days, flooding Binghamton, Owego and many other communities.
Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes were not spared from the flood’s wrath. Every church took in at least a little water, but the damage was minimal in most of the buildings, Snyder-Bell said. The basement of the vacant church in Van Etten was filled with about a foot of water at the height of the flood, and five or six inches of water seeped into the basement classrooms underneath St. Margaret Mary, she said.
"At this point if it’s under a foot (of water) it’s not bad," Snyder-Bell said. The most significant damage to the parishes’ property took place on the Owego, which includes St. Patrick Church, St. Patrick School and several office buildings.
"The school definitely is the most damaged. The whole bottom floor of the school almost to the ceiling was covered in water, so it’s being gutted. It affected our preschool room, which is very large, and our boiler room," Snyder-Bell said.
The upper two floors of the school were not damaged, although the smell from the ruined lower floor has wafted into those floors, she said. Cleanup work in the school began Sept. 11, but Snyder-Bell said it was too soon to speculate when the school would be able to reopen.
"It’s not safe to have students in there with the bacteria and the smell," she said.
Approximately 18 inches of water flooded the basement of an office building on the parishes’ Owego grounds, which affected items stored in the basement as well as the building’s boilers, and the hall underneath St. Patrick Church was filled with four feet of water at one point, she added.
"We have a commercial refrigerator in there, and it pulled it off the wall and set it on its side with its doors open. Our kitchen was just remodeled and they’re telling me the cabinets have to go," she said.
Cleanup work began in the church hall on Sept. 12, and parish leaders hope that work will prevent the smell from infiltrating the church itself, which was not damaged, Snyder-Bell said.
Regularly scheduled weekend Masses were held Sept. 10-11 at St. Patrick, St. John the Evangelist and St. Margaret Mary despite the flood-related damage, she added. There was no electricity at most of the churches, but that didn’t stop the parish staff, who felt it was important to offer Masses because "people might need that spiritual connection amidst all of this." Power was restored at the Owego campus late Sept. 11, she noted.
Dozens of volunteers gathered at St. Patrick School Sept. 11 to begin the work of gutting and cleaning the school’s bottom floor, Snyder-Bell said.
"We had enormous help from volunteers. We set up assembly lines and just handed mountains of stuff back out. The community’s just amazing," she said.
Parishioners also gathered at St. John the Evangelist, where they prepared food and put together a soup kitchen on wheels.
"They’ll be driving around neighborhoods offering hot meals, diapers, things like that. People don’t have socks and underwear. They have lost everything," she said.
Angela Klopf and her staff at Tioga Outreach Center, a ministry of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga, also are trying to meet the needs of people who lost their homes, belongings and in some cases their livelihoods in the recent flooding. There is a need for food and prepared meals since many homes are still without electricity, said Klopf, the center’s director. Many people are still in emergency shelters, and some of these shelters don’t have cooking facilities, she added.
The Waverly-based outreach center is seeking donations of gift cards to restaurants, department stores and gas stations, which staff members will distribute to flood victims.
"We’re one of the only agencies that wasn’t affected, so we’ve been getting a lot of people today," Klopf told the Catholic Courier Sept. 12. "A lot of people are coming in looking for cleaning supplies, household products, school supplies."
Tioga Outreach Center is accepting donations of such supplies, as well as monetary donations that can be used to meet flood victims’ specific needs.
The center’s staff helped victims of the 2006 flooding in the area, but this year’s flood was much worse, both because of a larger volume of water and because it was more widespread, Klopf said. Many of the community leaders who organized the response to the 2006 flood lost their own homes and belongings this year.
"This time there are a lot more communities, towns and villages that were affected," she said. "We don’t know what our role will be yet. We’re still trying to organize and get stuff together to really get a grip on what the most-needed things are."
EDITOR’S NOTE: To donate to Tioga Outreach Center’s relief efforts, call 607-565-7580 or send donations to Tioga Outreach Center, 464 Broad St., Waverly, NY 14892.Tags: Catholic Charities, Tioga County News