Just over three months after the day when freezing water and chunks of ice flooded homes on Lexington Green and Brian Lane in West Seneca, representatives of local businesses and agencies offered information and help Sunday to those affected by that flood and two others that followed.
“This disaster was unique,” said Amanda Vallone, senior disaster program manager with the Red Cross, which helped organize the Community and Home Recovery Fair in St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Clinton Street. The first flood, on Jan. 11, was caused by ice jams on Buffalo Creek and affected 70 homes. Floods in February and March did less damage.
“Most times, you have a disaster, there’s an impact, and then you can start recovering immediately,” she said. “In January, people started recovering, but then they were impacted again in February, impacted again in March. Hopefully now, by mid-April, we are hoping they won’t be impacted by flooding any more and they can begin the recovery process without having to worry.”
Standing by to help them recover were people representing an assortment of groups and businesses, from church-based disaster assistance organizations to people offering special prices on home-repair work and representatives of banks and Consumer Credit Counseling.
Information from the Internal Revenue Service about documenting losses from disasters and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on preparing for disasters was also offered.
Jan Tyson of the Presbytery of Western New York attended the event in her role with the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group, a permanent coalition of civic and faith-based organizations that swings into action when disaster strikes. “We plan to have fund-raisers; we don’t want people to forget that this has happened,” said Tyson.
The purpose of the fair, to which all affected families were invited, was to say, “We’re still here, we still have your back, and here are some businesses and groups that want to help out too,” Vallone said.
“There are some community members who are still not living in their homes because they were so severely impacted,” said Vallone. “There’s a varying scale of how people are affected. Some are 100 percent displaced, still not living in their homes, while others are on their way back to being fully recovered.”
Workers at the fair offered to open case management files on every family, “so we know who still needs drywall, who still needs garage doors,” Vallone said. “Then we can further reach out to additional services, once we know what the needs are at this point.”
When a community is hit by an event like the West Seneca floods, the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group seeks out affected residents to serve on a temporary and focused Long-Term Recovery Group.
A new member of that Long-Term Recovery Group, who sat behind a table greeting neighbors on Sunday, was Linda Mehnert. She was also one of the hardest-hit Lexington Green residents – her basement filled with water, destroying everything in it, and water spilled up into the first floor. Her house also re-flooded in February.
“I am very happily on the Long-Term Recovery Group,” said Mehnert. “This work has given me hope and a chance to find out about disasters. I didn’t know what it was like to live through a disaster until this, and I don’t think anyone could know until it happened to them.”
Since she joined the group, Mehnert completed the training to become a case manager, interviewing and documenting the needs of others. “God showed me a path I didn’t even know I could be on,” she said.
Mehnert has been able to stay in her house. “We just moved up a floor,” she said. “We are slowly moving back down. But we had huge bills to get this stuff done.”
Dan and Barbara Mathews of Lexington Green stopped in with their son, Ryan, 11. With the heat off for days after the Jan. 11 flood, Barbara and Ryan stayed elsewhere, while Dan bailed out the floodwaters in his house and aided neighbors. They stopped by Sunday’s fair “just to support the people who all took the time to be here,” said Dan. “We’ve had help offered, and it’s nice to have so many people still thinking about it,” said Barbara. “We thought we didn’t need any help. The next day, we were saying, ‘We’re fine, we’re fine, go to the next house,’ and then we realized we were not fine. Months later, we still had water coming into our basement every time it rained.”