November 24, 2014

Disaster Relief: Bracing for the rain in Western NY

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
buffalo before and after
Caption: BEFORE AND AFTER: This photo, courtesy West Seneca Teachers Association president Joe Cantafio, shows just how much snow melted in his front yard over the weekend. "One member who never had flooding in his basement in 30 years is getting flooded today," Cantafio said.
Teachers volunteer in communities; SRPs clear school roofs and parking lots

NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund

Volunteers hit the streets again today, either shoveling or securing sandbags to help prevent flooding as western New York digs out from up to 79.5 inches of snow and prepares to handle the rapid meltdown from warmer temperatures. Today, it is raining and high winds are expected to bring power outages as Buffalo-area residents max out on weather strife.

"Today we were especially needed. Many local community volunteers had to go back to work Monday but, with school closed, we had members available who were coming out today to shovel or sandbag; whatever was needed," said Joe Cantafio, president of the West Seneca Teachers Association. "The community had to rely more on us,"

The Buffalo-area snow arrived in about 48 hours; then, in the last 48 hours, a lot of it melted as temperatures spiked. Today, it's about flood preparation: sand bags. As of Monday afternoon, it was still raining and flooding had begun.

"One member who never had flooding in his basement in 30 years is getting flooded today," Cantafio said.

Although schools in the Buffalo area are closed, workers are still there keeping buildings safe.

"Many of our School-Related Professionals have been working around the clock to clear roofs, clear parking lots, make sure schools are safe when we do return, and make sure payroll is processed and school is functioning," Cantafio said.

NYSUT members know how these weather disasters can affect families. The union is poised to help in other ways, in addition to shovel power. Fundraising for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund, which helps members in need after natural disasters, got a jumpstart this weekend when $2,020 was raised at the annual Suffolk Region Leadership Training Conference for Buffalo-area members in need.

"We do know on Long Island that NYSUT was very supportive, as were our brothers and sisters across the state, when Superstorm Sandy hit (October 2012) - both financially and with people coming down to help," said Antoinette Blanck, president of the 800-member United Teachers of Northport and NYSUT board member who kept the fundraising lively at the conference. "It's important for us to pull together. It's a way of paying back."

Western New York educators were front and center volunteering in community shovel endeavors throughout the weekend, answering the call from the Area Labor Federation for volunteers.

"We have many elderly - there was no access. We shoveled them a path from door to street," said Cantafio, who joined the crew with his first and second vice presidents, Christopher Galley and Mark Wright, respectively, along with many teachers and NYSUT Regional Staff Director Mike Deely. They were given lists of addresses at the Emergency Operations Center and showed up with their shovels, joining ALF President Richard Lipsitz. Some elderly needed medicine delivered.

"It meant a great deal that so many union brothers and sisters came out," Cantafio said.

As the afternoon sky darkened in its quick approach to night, Catafio said, "All I'm doing is watching my sump pump. "It's raining. We have 60 degrees and rain."

Even with all the melting, he still can't get out his front door. West Seneca won second place in snowfall with 78 inches; Hamburg took top prize with 79.5 inches.

Many area K-12 schools are closed until December 1st. Among the six emergency shelters set up in the Buffalo area by the American Red Cross, the most recent was at Iroquois Middle School in Elma. The shelters provide cots, blankets, food, water and support.

SUNY campuses at the University of Buffalo and Buffalo State College reopened today after cancelling classes the last half of last week. Joseph Atkinson, professor of engineering at the University of Buffalo, reported on the dangers of flooding in Buffalo online. He is a member of United University Professions, a NYSUT higher education affiliate for state-operated SUNY campus faculty and professional staff.

Among the storm-related deaths in Buffalo this past week are those who died from heart attacks. University of Buffalo cardiologist and professor Anne Curtis, a member of UUP, explained why the risks of heart attack increase for both shoveling and snow blowing.

Tips on home disaster preparedness kits can be found at