By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun contributing writer
BROOME COUNTY —When the Susquehanna River topped the 25-foot levee in Binghamton on Sept. 8, it was clear the Flood of 2006 wasn’t the “Flood of the Century.”
By that time, with all the bridges over the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers closed, downtown was deserted. Hours earlier, people were evacuated from that area. The water made it just more than a block before starting to recede. But the impact of the flooding was widespread, affecting nearly every community in the county.
Tropical Storm Lee had dropped more than 10 inches of rain over a 24-hour period beginning Sept. 7. Residents had to bypass flooded or washed-out roads with creative alternate routes, mostly through the hills, just to get home from work the following day. Flash flooding affected some. River flooding entered dozens of neighborhoods.
The Susquehanna River crossed Boland Drive to the back door of the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Church in Johnson City. As in 2006, the river overflowed into the rectory basement, former school, convent and church basement. This time, however, the first floor of the rectory also took on a foot of water. St. John the Evangelist in Bainbridge, St. Agnes in Afton and Most Holy Rosary in Maine were also affected.
On Sept. 9, Bishop Robert Cunningham visited Broome County. The bishop also drove by the flooded Blessed Sacrament complex on his way to Binghamton University to visit an evacuation shelter. Earlier he’d met at nearby St. James Parish with area pastors and officials from Catholic Charities.
Lori Accardi, executive director of Broome County Catholic Charities, said it’s a much worse flood than five years ago.
“I think there were about 4,000 households impacted and I read this time it’s 20,000. So if you figure it’s about five times the impact, ” Accardi said.
Accardi was working with a team at St. Ambrose Parish on Sept. 11 to set up one of five relief centers for Broome County. Catholic Charities is working with the Broome County Council of Churches and the Salvation Army to reach out to the community. But they were also serving people while a truck was unloaded with supplies from a just-closed evacuation shelter.
“I just felt like we should open our pantries today, so we opened both the Endicott and the Main St. Binghamton pantries,” she said, “for anybody who needed food who was impacted by the flood or otherwise because our regular pantry users couldn’t use our pantries Thursday and Friday.”
In addition to St. Ambrose, flood relief centers were opened at St. Mary’s in Kirkwood, St. Mary of the Assumption in Binghamton, Our Lady of Sorrows in Vestal and at a former Burger King restaurant in the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City.
Accardi said they’re likely to reach out to see if they can assist neighboring Tioga County in the Rochester Diocese. St. Margaret Mary’s Parish is located in the particularly hard-hit Town of Owego.
Deacon Ed Blaine is director of CHOW (The Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse) of the Broome County Council of Churches. As Blaine finished unloading CHOW’s truck on Sept. 11, he spoke of how flooding had destroyed the crops at a CHOW community farm in Conklin. He wondered if CHOW’s recently planted donated fruit orchard had been spared. He noted that the flooding this year far exceeded 2006.
“It’s a lot worse. The only way it’s not even worse is because down in Conklin especially, is that a lot of houses were torn down.” Blaine said. “But now the houses that survived are the ones that are going to be hit the hardest.”
“We’re all in the same boat. We’re trying to work together and see if we can survive it once again,” he added.
When word went out that a relief center was being set up St. Ambrose, volunteers from neighboring parishes showed up. Dan Balles of St. Joseph’s was one of those helping out.
“We had a call from some friends,” Balles said. “They were coming here to help out boxing some food and some clothes. So we just came down to help out.”
“We’ve been here for several hours,“ he said. “Donations keep coming in so we keep moving them around the best we can.”
Catholic Charities of Broome County has been updating its web page with flood relief information. They’re also accepting monetary donations through the website at www.catholiccharitiesbc.org. Look for the “donate” button midway down the page.