The red truck that I drive may not be new, but it has never been as dirty as it is now. Dust covers it’s exterior: dust from Conklin, dust from Westover, dust from our street in South Binghamton, dust from downtown, dust from Westover, dust from Castle Gardens, dust from Twin Orchards. While this dust is the result of water and silt escaping the confines of the banks and flood levies designed to keep the river at bay, there is nothing clean about it. Pathogens, chemicals, and other nasty stuff permeate this dust creating an environment that Betty Pomeroy, our Hospital Chaplain, says is rife for pneumonia and other diseases. However bad most of us have it, there are people who are far worse.
Traveling through areas of Conklin, Westover and Castle Gardens is like a war zone, watching the remnants of lives lived, piled by the side of the road like one great big moving sale. The old life is washed away and an uncertain and scary future emerges to replace it. Many of these people were severely affected by the flood in 2006 are at it again, the last five years erased by two days.
The tragedy is that many of the people who have been affected by this tragedy are living on fixed incomes or have seen savings and jobs erased during the recent recession. Some of these people received FEMA money in 2006 and may have exhausted FEMA’s support, and were forced, due to economic hardship, to forgo payments to their flood insurance. How often, after all, does a five hundred year flood come? And when the dice is rolled, do you pay for flood insurance or buy medication or food or make the mortgage payment? Sadly, much like the financial institutions that banked on the housing bubble to continue, these folks gambled on the wrong outcome, but there is no one who will come along to bail them out. It’s very sad and discouraging for those people as they look at the piles of dust gathering around them.
Then there is the dust that permeates our own parking lot. Yes, it has dispersed a little bit in the two weeks since the flood, but it’s still there. Instead of that dust bringing remembrances of the devastation that it does to other folks in our neighborhood, our dust is evidence of our narrow escape from the tragic undertow of the flood. Five feet is all that spared us from having water come into our warehouse. The flood water went all the way up our parking lot, leaving fine silt all over the surface.
If you were anything like me, when I got the news that we had been spared, I let out tears of joy and relief because my worst fears had not been confirmed. The CHOW trucks were safe; the Ramp it up trailers, dry; and our pickup truck that we park with its back to the flood levy was high and dry. Miraculously we were given a gift of mercy and grace and we remained safe when everyone else in our neighborhood was devastated.
On Saturday when the flood waters had finally receded to the point where we could get into the building, the first thing Ed and I did was get some volunteers and staff together so we could load some things into the CHOW trucks. We took paper products, milk and juice to the emergency shelters and tried to get into Owego. We were successful in getting to the local emergency shelters, but Owego was a far different story. After two unsuccessful hours, my son and I turned back, cut off from Tioga county by a mere fifteen miles. Collecting dust on the outside of the truck, splashing flood water as we drove, breathing diesel fumes all the way.
Then there were the meetings and the confusion and the old relationships being picked up that were developed in the flood only five years ago. When long term relief is taken into account, we did not close down our long term recovery effort until June, 2008 – two years after the initial flood. So here we are three years later at the same table, trying to make sense of what happened. Five hundred year floods are not what we think they are anymore. In my sick mind, I can construe this as what inflation means.
Meanwhile we have other problems. HPNP funding was cut off from us due to a technicality for how the form was filled out. Bureaucrats making decisions in a sterile board room that not only keeps hungry people from receiving much needed food, but will keep us receiving $35,000 in much needed funds this year, and $70,000 next. So not only do we have a flood, but we have less resources to draw on in order to do the work that our friends and neighbors require of us. It doesn’t seem fair. The dust is getting thicker.
So we cancelled the press conference for the HPNP issue in deference for the lives of folks that were devastated by this flood. All the while we have been trying to figure out what is next for us and our community. So next week, Tuesday at 5:00 at Sarah Jane Johnson UM Church, we have rescheduled the press conference. At that meeting we will be talking about the importance of Broome Bounty for our area and letting our stakeholders know how to contact elected officials and bureaucrats who make these decisions. Hopefully we will flood Albany with letters, letting them know that we will not allow some technicality keep hungry people from getting fed.
So here we are, the ash of the flood still clinging to foliage and the outside of buildings, covering relief workers and CHOW trucks and our volunteers. In many ways we have begun to respond to the emerging needs, keeping relief centers supplied with the materials that make recovery possible. We have begun to collect money in a flood relief fund, and have several fundraisers scheduled to help raise funds and food for the relief effort.
Last Saturday as I stood by the banks of the Susquehanna River which at that time was Thompkins Street, I thought long and hard about what we would do if we had four feet of water in our building. It became clear to me that we would draw from the strength of the faith and the love of people of faith in Broome County and we would move forward to help people, because that is what we do. It might have been a different building and there would have been difficult decisions to make, but we would have done it and moved forward.
But thankfully that did not happen, and today we are poised to play our part in helping our area recover. Yes our area is covered with the fine silt of the flood, and many today are dusty and tired, but we will play our part. We have been gifted by the grace, the faith, and the mercy of thousands of people in our area, and we will do our best to clean people off, help them dust off their dreams and memories, and help them put their lives back together: dust and all.