August 23, 2018

NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund supports members hit hard by Southern Tier flooding

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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flash foods in Southern Tier
Caption: Photo provided.

Union assistance is available to people in the Southern Tier who are recovering from flash floods, which lifted mobile homes into the water, washed away roads, created sink holes, filled basements with water, and flooded the first floor of an elementary school.

Applications for disaster relief assistance to individual members can be found through NYSUT’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Liz McCheyne, South Seneca Teachers Association president, said the whole first floor of the elementary school in Interlaken was flooded and 18 feet of sheetrock in the library now has to be replaced.

“There was so much force, the water broke a window,” she said.

Flooding was so severe that some children across the region were trapped in cottages and had to wait hours to be rescued.

“There was trauma for the kids,” McCheyne said. “We expect to have some counseling services available” when school reopens.

McCheyne is among those who sustained damage to her home, furnace and hot-water heater. Her basement had 18 inches of water and had to be pumped out by volunteer firefighters.

“The volunteer firefighters are just amazing, and several teachers are members,” said McCheyne, whose basement will also have to be sprayed for mold.

Catherine Farrell, NYSUT regional staff director for the Southern Tier, said some people had to leave their homes, and some roads are still impassable one week after the flash floods.

Farrell said that on the night the floods began, she was coming home from dinner in a car with several others when water began shooting up from the blacktop in different spots.

“It was amazing. I’d never seen it before. It was a different kind of bizarre,” she said.

flash foods in Southern Tier
Photo provided.

Although the Chenango River did not crest, Farrell said that runoff has raced through the region. In her backyard, the current from a perpetually dry creek bed was so strong that it lifted boulders.

Al Comfort, a NYSUT labor relations specialist and Red Cross volunteer, was called to spend the night in a shelter at a community center with people who had to leave their homes due to the flash floods in Big Flats, Chemung County.

“It all came down the hill and ripped out the roadway, damaging homes and the animal shelter,” Comfort said, adding that a boat was used in a rescue of a mobile home that was pushed onto Seneca Lake with a person inside.

Boil-water advisories have been extended for several towns in the area.

Comfort said the Red Cross is providing flood victims with mops, bleach, masks, cleanup gloves, and personal hygiene kits.

Reflecting on his service at the shelter, where he was on duty 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., Comfort said his main job was simply to listen to those who had been displaced by the floods.

“You’re talking with someone who is at the lowest point they’ve been in for a long time. In the middle of the night, their minds race,” he said. “It’s really important for people to be there in a time of need.”

How to apply for NYSUT's Disaster Relief Fund

Members affected by flooding in the Southern Tier, which hasn't yet been declared a FEMA disaster, can use the NYSUT Disaster Relief application for general assistance.

Please note: If the Southern Tier flooding is declared a FEMA-eligible disaster, an abridged application will need to be used. NYSUT will provide an abridged application if/when a FEMA disaster is declared. Please check back to see if a FEMA declaration has been made and an abridged application has been posted.

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