Heroes of the Flood of 2011

Connie McKinneyStarred Page By Connie McKinney, 8th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/ze-he7oe/
Posted in Wikinut>News>Environment

Volunteers cleaned up muddy houses, sheltered homeless people and fed people with no food or electricity. Meet the real heroes of the Flood of 2011. This is the second in a three-part series.

Help For Flood of 2011 Victims

The elderly woman sat alone at the edge of the mud-filled driveway, picking through soggy cardboard boxes full of mud-spattered pots, pans and photos rescued from the Flood of 2011.
Suddenly, she looked up and saw a half dozen people walking toward her, their rubber boots sinking into the muck of her driveway. They all wore rubber gloves and old jeans and had respirators dangling around their necks. Tears filled her eyes, and she jumped up and began hugging and thanking the volunteers who had come to clean out her house. I was one of the volunteers.
This is the second anniversary of the Flood of 2011 when Tropical Storm Lee dumped a record 7 inches of rain in one day in BInghamton, New York and the surrounding areas. The storm caused millions of dollars in damage to thousands of homes and businesses and left behind a soggy, muddy mess. Volunteers came to their rescue and helped the community bounce back from devastating losses.
Professional organizations such as police, firefighters and the National Guard helped people evacuate and rescued people from rooftops by helicopter and by vote. Volunteers used their own boats and canoes to help rescue neighbors.
The American Red Cross and Salvation Army were on the scene to help people with cleaning supplies, food, and shelter. Salvation Army volunteers made the rounds of flooded neighborhoods every day and grilled hot dogs and hamburgers from their mobile van to feed residents and volunteers. The Red Cross also delivered meals to people living in the flooded areas. Electricity had been shut off so there was no way for people to cook on stoves or refrigerate food.
Some people stayed with friends or family. But many people lived on the second floor of their flooded houses without electricity and heat for several weeks after the flood. The Federal Emergency Management Agency brought in some trailers for people to stay in.
The Red Cross set up a shelter for thousands of people at Binghamton University's Event Center - a large building which normally houses basketball games. Hundreds of university students and staff and volunteers from the community helped feed and shelter flood victims.
Here's a video which shows how devastating the flood was for people living down the road in Owego, one of the areas hardest hit by the flood:

Joining the Flood Cleanup Brigade

Most people who were evacuated could not return to their homes for several days. They had to wait for the water to recede. The flood left behind a muddy, soggy mess for people to clean up.
Some people got help from family, friends or neighbors. But this was a huge job, and most people needed help.
Local churches came to their rescue and began organizing teams of volunteers. I read about it in my church bulletin soon after the flood and decided to volunteer. No doubt I felt some survivor's guilt because my house was untouched by the flood while so many people weren't so fortunate.
I'd never done flood cleanup before but I soon realized I wasn't the only flood cleanup rookie. Every team had a leader with experience in construction who showed us what to do. All of the volunteers were friendly and helpful to everyone on the team. Some of the older people who weren't able to volunteer did their part by cooking lunch for us.
We wore respirators, rubber boots, rubber gloves and old jeans and t-shirts. By the end of the day, we were covered in mud. I did a lot of laundry after volunteering.
My post-flood Sunday routine went like this for several weeks: attend an early church service then head out to another church to join the cleanup crew for the rest of the day. At the time, I was working and going to graduate school so Sunday was the only day I could volunteer.
Most of what we did the first few weeks was removing flood-damaged furniture and other possessions from people's homes. When I helped clean up the home of the lady who was trying to salvage her possessions, I was assigned to clean up her bedroom. I opened up her dresser drawers - hoping I could salvage some clothing. Instead, a stream of muddy water poured out. We were only able to save a couple of dresses which hung high up in her closet. We carried everything else out to the curb.
This was a sad chore but the woman was so grateful to us. She said she felt so overwhelmed by the mess left behind by the flood. Then, we showed up to help her.
"You're all angels," she told us through her tears.
Sadly, there wasn't much to save at the houses where I volunteered. In one house, the homeowner opened up the kitchen cabinets - hoping to save his dishes. Instead, muddy river water poured out of the cabinets. I couldn't believe how high the water had gotten.
Here's another video showing the destruction of the flood and the mess we had to help clean up:


The Cleanup Goes On

We cleaned up a lot of flooded basements. First, we would use a Shop-Vac to vacuum up excess water. Then, we used a power washer to clean the basement's floors and walls to keep mold from growing down there.
We went to some houses only once while we went to other, more severely damaged houses several times. Our team cleaned up the basement for a blind man. We also helped clean up at several homes owned by elderly people who couldn't do the work themselves.
As the weeks progressed, we began to do more demolition work. Once everything was cleared out, we had to strip the house down to its bare walls. Nails had to be pulled out. Cabinets had to be removed from the walls. In some cases, we had to use a sledgehammer to knock out cabinets and walls.
This was hard, dirty work but I never heard anyone complain. Many volunteers came back week after week. Some senior citizens who were retired volunteered every day during the week when many of us had to work. A young couple who lived more than an hour away drove up to Binghamton every Sunday and worked all day in the mud and the muck.
In the end, I helped clean up about a dozen houses - just a drop in the bucket of the thousands of buildings which were damaged. I did what I could to help, and other people did a lot more work than I did. We pulled together and helped our neighbors when they needed us the most. Volunteers were the silver lining in this tragedy.

Here is part one in the flood series:


The videos came from You Tube.
The respirator photo came from Wikimedia Commons and is free to use under the Creative Commons licensing done by Wikimedia user Banej.
I took the other photos myself.


Flood, Flood Damages, Flood Havoc, Flooding, Floods

Meet the author

author avatar Connie McKinney
I enjoy exercising, pets, and volunteering as well as writing about these topics and others.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
8th Sep 2013 (#)

how wonderful you be Connie...a light shining in the darkness....

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author avatar Connie McKinney
8th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, Carolina. I just wish I could have done more to help.

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author avatar Fern Mc Costigan
9th Sep 2013 (#)

Nice piece

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author avatar Stella Mitchell
9th Sep 2013 (#)

You truly were an angel in human form in all that you and the other cleanup volunteers did to help those is such distress here Connie ... What a terrible time that must have been .
God bless you my friend .
Stella ><

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author avatar Connie McKinney
9th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, Fern. I guess that's the way you get through bad times: by reaching out to others and working together to help out.

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author avatar Connie McKinney
9th Sep 2013 (#)

Thank you, Stella, for your kind words. It was a tough time. I'm glad I was able to help but still wish I could have done more.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
9th Sep 2013 (#)

very amazing and inspiring...thank you Connie...

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author avatar Connie McKinney
9th Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks, Delicia. It was wonderful to see people reaching out to help their neighbors.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
13th May 2014 (#)

Good evening, Connie, I'm catching up on long over-due reading and this is inspirational. Thank you for volunteering and for sharing the story. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Connie McKinney
13th May 2014 (#)

Marilyn, the one bright spot was seeing people come together to help their neighbors. I was glad I could be of service.

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