By Christian Vischi, Special Contributor…
One irony of the 2011 flooding of Middleburgh, N.Y., was that there was too much water to save a barn from fire.
One remnant of the damage done by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee is the many shuttered businesses and residences in this community of about 1,500 in Schoharie County.
And one spark of hope comes from a troop of Volunteers in Mission (VIM) who have traveled 50 to 75 miles each way every Monday – since day one – to repair homes in a community where many didn’t have flood insurance.
Last August, Hurricane Irene was the first to hit. Less than two weeks later Tropical Storm Lee brought more rain. With the creek having already breached its banks and the ground saturated, there was nothing to hold back the current.
Although the flood waters only lasted about 24 to 36 hours before receding, John “Jack” Hill said homeowners told him that they rose up faster than you could fill a bathtub.
Fields had more than six feet of water above them, just days before they would have been ready for harvest.
Mr. Hill, who is the Albany District VIM coordinator and a member of Valley Falls United Methodist Church, related the story of the barn that had spontaneously combusted from the hay inside. However, the property it was on was located on the west side of Middleburgh, and fire crews could not traverse a bridge, due to the flooding.
As Mr. Hill drove on state Route 30, he pointed out a grocery store, a restaurant, a small strip of stores and an automotive repair shop that – even now – have no visible signs of repair. The only signs displayed are warnings to potential vandals, noting that looters would be prosecuted or worse.
Here come the angels
Teams of volunteers have come from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan and Central New York to help rehabilitate homes in Middleburgh. But the Rev. Carol Coltrain, pastor of nearby Huntersland United Methodist Church, said she is impressed with the devotion of Mr. Hill’s group.
“My special angels are Jack and this bunch that come every Monday,” Ms. Coltrain said. “They provide real hope because the community sees them, that they are faithful – they are here all the time.”
That group consists of about 18 individuals, mostly retired, from eight to 10 large and small churches in the Albany/Troy/Schenectady area.
As Ms. Coltrain says, the community of Middleburgh became a family. Everyone, it seems, chipped in to start the rebuilding, from day one.
The Middleburgh UMC became the home away from home for VIM teams. A shower was added to the men’s room there, and a new refrigerator was purchased. Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church prepared lunches and the Middleburgh UMC provided dinners.
“This was a real ecumenical effort,” said Ms. Coltrain, “and an outpouring of faith from the community.”
A distribution center was set up at the elementary school by the American Red Cross.
One local business, Ms. Coltrain recalled, completely relied on faith. The hardware store was the first business in the community to reopen. However, without power, the cash register did not work.
“He told people take it and come back later,” Ms. Coltrain said of the owner. “They all came back to pay him. … I got this and this and this,” they would tell him, she said.
Mr. Hill said that and several other local businesses are frequented by his group and other teams that come to Middleburgh.
“We’re not only here to go out and rebuild a home, but to rebuild the people that are there,” said Mr. Hill.
The angels’ angels
Middleburgh is just one area of the state was affected by the storms of 2011. Vestal, Johnson City, Owego, Tioga Center, Cobleskill, Blenheim and Prattsville are just a few that were devastated by the flooding, and all require financial resources for rebuilding.
To date, about $43,000 has been used in the recovery effort in Middleburgh, said Mr. Hill. “So far, we have met every bill on time.”
“We’ve enjoyed a real warm response from people; churches I didn’t even think knew about us have sent in substantial checks,” he said.
The Upper New York Annual Conference also contributed $10,000 to their efforts.
In mid-June, members of Mr. Hill’s VIM team were the first to use the Shower Trailer, a six-stall mobile shower facility for the UMVIM of the Northeastern Jurisdiction. It also houses a stacked washer and dryer unit. And residents were able to return to the 19th home renovated.
The week of Aug. 3-5, Middleburgh will celebrate its 300th birthday.
Years of rebuilding remain. The grocery store is shuttered and the Reformed Church of Middleburgh is still long way from reopening the sanctuary.
One day the whole community will be restored, just as it was after the last great flood.
“This was originally called the 100-year flood,” said Ms. Coltrain, “but now (they are) referring to it as the 500-year flood.” The last big flood was in 1956.
“Fifty-six was a whale of a flood,” she said, “but not like this.”
Christian Vischi is the communications associate for the Upper New York Annual Conference.