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UMCOR responds to Susquehanna flooding Linda Bloom, Sep 23, 2011
PHOTO COURTESY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
A restaurant was boarded up before the arrival of Hurricane Irene in Ocean City, N.J.
By Linda Bloom United Methodist News Service
The flooding of the Susquehanna River has had major consequences for the United Methodist conference of the same name.
Since the river spans the Susquehanna Conference from north to south, floodwaters affected eight of its 11 districts, said the Rev. Larry Siikanen, conference disaster coordinator.
Across the Northeastern United States, United Methodists have responded to the one-two punch of flooding caused consecutively by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has provided the Susquehanna Conference with a $10,000 initial grant for flood relief. Mr. Siikanen said on Sept. 12 he is hiring three people to help coordinate cleanup and recovery work for the northeast, central and southern parts of the conference. “They will be on the ground tomorrow,” he added.
Pennsylvania flooding began on Labor Day weekend with the overflow from small streams and creeks and ended with the rising waters of the Susquehanna. Some homeowners were inundated by both floods, Mr. Siikanen noted.
Communities hardest hit included Wilkes-Barre and the Wyoming Valley, Hershey, Bloomsburg, sections of Harrisburg and the York area. The conference still is collecting information on flood damage to church buildings. “We had a number of churches with water in the basement, but we did have a few who had water in their sanctuary,” Mr. Siikanen said.
Accepting work teams
One of his main priorities is coordinating the work teams already arriving from around the conference and lining up support, such as shower facilities, for teams coming in over the long haul. “It’s probably going to be two or three years before we get everything back into shape,” he said.
Mr. Siikanen said he welcomes work teams from outside the Susquehanna Conference. Those interested in scheduling a visit should contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Susquehanna flows into Pennsylvania from Tioga County, New York, which sustained record flooding as did adjacent Broome County in the state’s Southern Tier. “It’s been a second disaster overlaying the first,” said the Rev. Carl Chamberlain, Upper New York Conference disaster coordinator.
In New York, new rains from Lee halted relief efforts in areas flooded earlier as evacuations were imposed. “We had to pull out our early response teams and close down the volunteer center in Middleburg,” Mr. Chamberlain said. In the end, he added, “Most of the [new] storm really came west of where Hurricane Irene had dumped.”
By Sept. 9, the Upper New York Conference had reported flood damage at a number of churches, including Nimmonsburg, near the Chenango River, in the flooded section of Binghamton, and the United Methodist churches in Tioga Center, Wellsburg, Owego, the Westover section of Johnson City, Barton, Nichols, Lounsberry, Vestal Center and Newark Valley.
Even a few days later, Mr. Chamberlain did not know the total number of churches affected by the flooding. “In some places, communications are still down,” he said.
While the rising river in the city of Binghamton made for dramatic television news, the damage was much more widespread. “These little crossroads communities scattered around the Southern Tier never make the news,” Mr. Chamberlain pointed out. “But some of those just are horrendous. You might have a couple of storefronts, two dozen houses, and 20 are damaged. That’s the sort of common report I’m getting from out in the country.”
In such communities, the church is one of the gathering spots. Some sit on high ground, but he said other churches are “literally down in the valley” and take in six feet of water.
He expected UMCOR to deliver a load of cleaning buckets from a denominational warehouse in Illinois to Broome and Tioga counties.
New Jersey also received additional rains from Tropical Storm Lee. Gyuchang Sim, coordinator of the denomination’s Greater New Jersey Conference disaster response committee, said the United Methodist church in Wayne was doing outreach to that community, hit by flooding from the Passaic River. The worst church-related flooding was in Paterson, also along the Passaic.
In the Catskills region, the New York Conference has been able to continue its flood relief efforts after temporary evacuations on Sept. 7. The Rev. Dale Ashby reported that he planned to work with a small group of early-response-team volunteers in Lexington on Sept. 12-13, with other teams going to Prattsville and Fleischmanns.
How to help
Donations to assist the denomination’s response to the tropical storm flooding can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 901670, U.S. Disaster Response, designated for Hurricanes 2011. For information, visit http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/donations/umcor/.