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Long, Winding Road To NY Flood Recovery


Two years after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee and almost one year after Superstorm Sandy altered New York’s land and seascapes, relief aid --- from both private donors and government agencies --- has been painfully slow in coming, as communities struggle to return to normal.

Financial help has come for disaster-impacted central New Yorkers: Thursday morning, Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared at Herkimer County Community College, where he announced that the state had issued more than 12-hundred checks totaling around $13.6 million in flood relief to victims in Oneida, Herkimer, Madison, Montgomery and Niagara counties.

But downstate New Yorkers, whose lives were upended when Sandy struck, are farther back on the road to recovery: United Way has raised upwards of 5-point-three million dollars in relief funding, which includes 2-point-five million from the Robin Hood Foundation. United Way’s Teresa Regnante estimates a million has been spent and another half-million doled out to hurricane victims by the Roundtable, an arm of the Long Island Unmet Needs Fund.

The slow pace of recovery doesn’t phase Regnante: she notes that eight years after Katrina, Louisiana is still coming back. Complicating matters, some storm victims hesitate to ask for help for a variety of reasons.

Assemblyman Pete Lopez, a Republican, represents the Northern Catskills, mid-Hudson Valley and Southern Tier --- where Irene and Lee wreaked havoc. He calls this a “bittersweet time.”

Housing is a huge unmet need with very few public resources available. Many Schoharie residents are still rebuilding in the wake of Irene and Lee, while downstate communities ravaged by Sandy are facing final signoffs on requests to FEMA. The deadline for health and human services organizations to apply for state funds from a 200-million dollar block grant has already arrived.

Assemblyman Lopez says people living in storm-impacted areas wince whenever heavy rains are forecast. Lopez points out he has spent much of the last two years intervening: connecting needy constituents with banks, insurance companies and state and federal funding sources, as efforts to expedite rebuilding efforts and repair infrastructure continue.

And more good news:  Windham, one of two communities (along with Prattsville) at the center of the devastation of Irene, marks a milestone this weekend.

Windham Mountain spokesperson Beth Barry says Windham is the latest mountaintop business to bounce back from Irene and Lee, celebrating that victory this weekend.

On Thursday, The New York City Department of Environmental Protection announced an additional 9 million dollars worth of new projects to improve Catskill streams and creeks damaged by Irene and Lee.

In contrast, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimates only 15-point-2 percent of 60 billion dollars in federal disaster funds allocated for Hurricane Sandy relief will have been spent by November.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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