Clean and Dry
Steven and I spent Labor Day in the town of Schoharie, NY, helping with disaster relief efforts after flooding caused by hurricane Irene. We had wanted to help out, and through a round-about way, God led us to a group from Grace Fellowship that was going. We’d been prepared to go on our own and just see what we could do once we got there, but going with a group was really nice. They had several houses lined up and knew what was needed at each one. Just car-pooling down, we met a great woman, Diane, who’d just come back from North Carolina, having done relief work there with Samaritan’s Purse.
The towns in the Schoharie Valley got hit hard with flooding. The small stream that runs through the valley swelled to fill the towns. When we got there, it looked like a war-zone. There were National Guardsmen there directing the very slow and chaotic traffic. I have been to Mississippi after Katrina and after flooding in Conklin, NY and had seen the devastating effect of wind and water. But, no matter how many times you see this kind of thing, it’s always shocking and awe-inspiring.
The first thing you see coming into the town are the piles along the road – house debris, tree branches, furniture, and various personal belongings all thrown haphazardly into large piles waiting for pick up. Trash services had apparently just been reinstated this past weekend, so there was a lot of debris to be hauled away. We didn’t take any pictures since we were there to work, but this photo from Rotterdam Junction, NY, not far away, gives the idea.
The next thing you notice is the mud. It’s everywhere, coating the ground and all around it with as much as a couple of inches of mud. This is the silt washed in by the swollen river and all it carried with it. And with the mud came the smell, a mixture of river smell, manure, sewage, and various other substances. Not very pleasant. This photo is of Main Street in Schoharie shortly after the storm.
The water line can clearly be seen on the windows of this local hardware store.
We worked at a house where the water had flooded the basement and part of the first floor. The entire first floor had already been gutted and about a foot of water stood in the basement. We worked at hauling the water in buckets across the corner to dump into the storm sewer so it wouldn’t just come back into the basement. There were 6 or 8 of us in a bucket brigade, while 2 small pumps had to be constantly attended in the basement so they didn’t get clogged with the muck. The main goal was to lower the water, which was still coming in through the walls, enough to get the furnace out. It took all morning and part of the afternoon, but we did eventually accomplish that. I also worked on gathering up some of the belongings from the basement that had been scattered about the yard. It felt a little less disheartening to have things a little more orderly. The decisions of what to try to salvage we left completely up to those who lived there.
We met the couple who lived there, and their reactions were, I suppose, indicative of the range you might see in such a situation. The man didn’t say much, but worked hard at getting a new sump pump set up to get the water out more efficiently. The woman was so thankful and amazed we’d come so far to help. She went and got a camera to take a picture of our bucket brigade. They had relatives in from out-of-town who were also helping clean up.
As we slogged our way back to the car to head home, I found myself really looking forward to getting cleaned up and relaxing my already aching muscles. I wanted nothing more than to be clean and dry, not much to ask in most situations. But, my heart ached as I realized that these people don’t have that option. All they own is wet and muddy. They never get away from the piles of trash, the tainted air, and the never-ending work. And yet, the atmosphere wasn’t hopeless. There were volunteers everywhere helping out. People from the Red Cross were walking around constantly offering food or drink, even making sure the National Guardsmen had eaten. I feel truly honored to be a part of it all.
The only photo we took, after we’d gotten home, but before getting clean and dry:
For more information about how to help in Schoharie County, check out the Schoharie County (NY) Emergency Services facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Schoharie-County-NY-Emergency-Services/145245731287) or the Watershed Post (http://www.watershedpost.com/), among many others.