AuSABLE FORKS - A regional coalition is working to address the unmet needs of people who were impacted by last year's Tropical Storm Irene.
John Bernardi, executive director of United Way for the Adirondack Region, is chairman of the Long Term Disaster Recovery Group of Clinton/Essex/Franklin Counties. He said many people still need help fixing their homes, getting rid of mold and rehabilitating their property.
John Bernardi, center, speaks about his new recovery group’s efforts to address the needs of Tropical Storm Irene victims, Behind him is U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.
"But there's also many other needs," Bernardi said, "from emotional, mental health issues, sometimes health care or lack thereof, and other resources people need to put their lives together during the recovery process. It's much more than just the physical damage which you would expect."
The recovery group, which includes nonprofit organizations and state agencies, hosted a special event at the Jay Community Center on Tuesday Aug. 28, the one-year anniversary of the storm that wreaked havoc on communities like Keene and Jay. The event, "One Year After: Resources & Recovery," aimed to link victims of the storm with resources to help them get back on their feet.
Barbara and Wilford Carnes, who live on state Route 9N in AuSable Forks, were among about 50 families who attended to check out the services available to them. Their home was damaged by flood waters, and townspeople and family members helped with repairs. Barbara said they still have some work to do.
"We got a lot of trees that we had to cut down (before) they fell on the house," Barbara said. "Some help to get rid of them would be nice, but I know there's other people that need things done worse than that, and I'm not going to holler and squawk."
Bernardi said it can be difficult for victims of a natural disaster to get the help they need. That's one of the reasons this new long-term recovery group came together. Bernardi said it will be a permanent fixture in the North Country.
"Once we get through this recovery process, which we anticipate going on for quite some time, we will then focus on other areas related to disaster recovery, which might be getting ourselves prepared for the next one and learning from some issues and some mistakes and some things that will help us be prepared for the next time we have a disaster," he said.
Bernardi said he was approached by officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Irene struck. He said he was asked to assemble a group to supplement FEMA's recovery efforts.
"FEMA did a great job, and they helped a lot of people," Bernardi said, "but there's still a lot of needs out there that we can't necessarily rely on government to take care of everything."
Doreen Ocasio of the Clinton County Office for the Aging said her agency still has funding available for people in Clinton County who are older than 60. She said that money could be especially helpful for people who were turned down by FEMA. Other agencies, like Essex County Mental Health, are still working in an educational capacity, connecting flood victims with the appropriate services.
Allegra Mussen of Essex County Mental Health said most people have gotten past the initial shock of the flood, but the long-term effects can still be a problem.
"Some people may have some traumatic responses to the disaster," she said. "Maybe they're having some nightmares or very intense dreams about it, or just a heightened response to certain sounds and noises. For people that are in that position, we've been able to continue working with them about things that they can do to address those concerns."
Steven Kuhr, director of the state Office of Emergency Management, said Irene was the largest disaster to strike New York since Hurricane Agnes in 1972. He said his office has helped direct millions of dollars in federal funds to Essex County for recovery efforts, but the work isn't over yet.
"Recovery isn't over today," Kuhr said. "Recovery is a continual process."
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said his office helped secure about $2.2 million for municipal and individual aid. He encouraged people to keep calling his office if they're having trouble accessing relief funds.