Whitesboro, N.Y., Residents Continue Flood Recovery Struggle

More than 150 houses are known to have been impacted by floodwaters, and numbers are still rising. There currently isn't a dollar estimate on the damage, but so far, the mayor knows of 16 houses that are unsalvageable.

by Jolene Cleaver, Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. / November 7, 2019
TNS

(TNS) — "We took people out with water up to their throats," said Whitesboro Mayor Robert Friedlander on Wednesday describing last week's flood rescue efforts.

The statement was among a series of remarks and reflections made to reporters about the current state of flood recovery following the Halloween storm that swamped the Mohawk Valley region. The weather event dumped four to six inches of heavy rain causing heavily stressed waterways that overflowed, flooding homes and washing out roads.

Since then, local and county officials say they have been compiling damage information to get a full picture of the situation.

Wednesday, many streets in Whitesboro still were host to National Grid workers, National Guardsmen and heavy dust.

Since the storm, Friedlander said the village Department of Public Works and police department have been working non-stop to assist villagers. Oneida County also has been assisting with cleanup and bringing supplies to flood victims, said County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr.

Friedlander noted that the rain and floodwaters have long since subsided, then listed streets and surrounding areas which were hardest hit in the village. Those included Sauquoit Street, Main Street, Ablett Avenue, Dunham Place and Ellmore Drive. All of these areas also were hit with flooding two years ago and have a track record of frequent flooding.

Friedlander said that more than 150 houses are known to have been impacted by floodwaters and numbers are still rising. He said there currently isn't a dollar estimate on the damage, but so far, he knows of 16 houses that are completely unsalvageable.

Compounding this, Friedlander said the stress in his village is high as cold weather and possibly snow is forecast for the near future. Many of those affected by the flooding are staying in currently unheated homes to protect their belongings from looters and scrappers. The mayor said he has ordered police to arrest those found violating compromised homes.

He also advises "gawkers" to stay away if they are not coming to assist.

"I've got hungry people. I've got cold people...," he said. "We need immediate help."

Right now, road salt and plow trucks that recently were set up for the cold winter months have been reconfigured for rubbish removal, he said.

Looking forward

Friedlander added that financial help from county, state and federal officials is in the works. But he is looking for more ways to help people get their lives back on track and find healthful living situations.

"I need help now. Not two to three weeks down the road... The time for action is now," he said. He also stated that he would welcome the Federal Emergency Management Agency stepping in with a home-buyout program as damage costs are rising.

"These people need salvation from their homes. ... Is it going to affect our tax base? Yes. I don't care ... People can't keep getting flooded time after time," Friedlander said.

However, the road to FEMA buyouts is complicated, Friedlander and Picente say.

"We are compiling information and trying to put pieces together," Picente said on Wednesday.

Picente said that typically when FEMA issues buyouts, sections of communities impacted might need to be under a disaster declaration and then there is a great deal of planning and property appraisal work as buyout properties ultimately are removed from tax rolls.

Picente said Oneida County currently is looking into what needs to be done.

"There's got to be a ... process in place," he said.

On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi is working with other members of New York's delegation to encourage the governor's office to expedite the process with the state's flood damage assessment. Like Picente, Brindisi similarly pointed to the process involved with FEMA aid.

"I am coordinating with local, county, state, and federal officials to try and make these communities whole," said Brindisi, D-Utica. "We are going to do everything we can to get Herkimer and Oneida County the resources they need. Right now, the best thing for residents to do is report their property damage to their county. I am working with the governor's office and other members of the New York delegation to respond to this tragic disaster."

More

• From noon to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica will host a meeting at Parkway Middle School at 65 Oriskany Blvd. in Whitesboro, for flood victims to access more services for recovery.

• Those wishing to donate time, materials or comfort items can contact the village office, at 315-736-1613, Friedlander said.

• Officials also note those impacted by flooding can dial 2-1-1 to access information on local assistance opportunities.

Contact reporter Jolene Cleaver at 315-792-4956 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Cleaver).

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©2019 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

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