It has been months since the floodwater ebbed in the City of Oneida. But according to Catholic Charities Program Manager Connie Marcus, based on what is known of flooding two years ago in Schoharie County, the long, slow process has only just begun for the area in Oneida known as the Flats.
Marcus coordinates the flood response and said that people don’t understand that the flood didn’t end when the water receded. “We’re just at the very beginning of even thinking about recovery,” said Marcus, who is spearheading disaster case management for Oneida City and Madison County through the Long Term Recovery Group. “The group is a real collaborative effort with a lot agencies involved. It began through the work of Councilwoman Helen Acker who worked with representatives from across the State to get help.” Acker sits on the Oneida City Common Council representing the 4th Ward, the area most devastated by the flood.
“This is really a two-year process. Things don’t move as quickly as any of us want them to,” Marcus said.
Marcus said that up until now the work has encompassed simply trying to assess exactly who has been impacted and to what extent. “We are just now seeing the second rounds of aid checks being cut to families affected. But, with those checks another round of denial letters were sent to others,” she said. Now Catholic Charities and other agencies need to determine who received aid and who needs to appeal a denial of aid. “If they didn’t have any flood insurance or didn’t receive any financial aid, these are the people we will be looking at,” she noted.
Marcus said that some people, even if their homes were deemed habitable, were living in the second floors of their houses because their first floors are unlivable. “Initially trucks and equipment came and we mucked out, but now there are mold and other issues that need to be dealt with,” she said. Of a nearby 30-unit trailer park, only four could be saved, she described. All of those residents had to be relocated, she said.
Catholic Charities and a number of other organizations, many of which are faith-based, came to the aid of flood victims. Marcus said the United Methodist community has a long-term focus and local Mennonites stepped forward early on to provide masonry work.
“It’s not just physical needs we’re trying to help with, but emotional and spiritual as well. Many of these people are having difficulty dealing with what occurred. The day the flood happened, a whole new normal began for them and they’re struggling to accept that,” she said.
Pam Vecchiano is Catholic Charities’ “eyes and ears” in Oneida. She sits on two committees. One deals with case management and will begin visiting each house to determine what funding is still needed and by whom. The committee will also prioritize the cases. The second committee, Vecchiano said, will work on unmet needs. This committee will then take the prioritized cases and determine what funding is available.
Vecchiano’s own house sits at the end of a dead end street in Oneida. The day of the flood, she noticed an unusual amount of traffic for the street as she got ready for work. When she looked to see what the commotion was about, she said, “All I could see was all this brown between the trees. It was the water gushing through Maxwell Field, the Little League field, at the end of the street.”
But now, Vecchiano said, the colder weather is bringing new issues for flood victims. She is working with one woman who would like to stay in her home, but the landlord refuses to fix the furnace damaged by the water. Vecchiano said that she will work with the Karing Kitchen, a program of the Oneida Area Council of Churches, to help people fill out paperwork seeking help from National Grid for furnace repairs.
With colder weather, added Vecchiano, comes the holidays and they could be particularly grim this year for the victims of the flood. “We’ll be doing collections and baskets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said.
Because the flood is not in the headlines right now, Marcus said, community support has slowed but is still vital. Many volunteer groups that helped initially have been called elsewhere, like to the flooding in Colorado.
“We will also need to do a lot more fundraising and in the public eye so that the folks impacted know that we’re still trying to help them,” she said.
To donate or volunteer, or if you are a flood victim in need of assistance, visit www.oneidamadisonflood.org.