Group Forms To Expedite Sugar Run Flood Recovery
By Rick Hiduk
More than a month after the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Lee, residents of Sugar Run and Wilmot Township are still struggling to get a handle on recovery efforts. Individual residents and the community as a whole are having a tougher time than expected putting their lives back together. On Oct. 13, they met at the fire hall in Wyalusing with leaders from several agencies and local clergy members who have experience with disaster recovery. The impetus of the gathering was to determine who needs what so that organizers of the grassroots group can figure out how to address the requests and to develop a timeline for assistance.
Speakers for the group credited Sherri Schreier for coordinating the meeting and for inviting FEMA voluntary agency liaison Brian Lewis and Help Line of Luzerne County director Tom Foley to share their expertise. Doug Sivers represented the United Methodist Church (UMC) Susquehanna Conference Flood Relief Program, and Spring Hill UMC members Bill and Elizabeth Beebe shared their experiences of helping flood victims in other states over the past few years. The meeting was sponsored by Loaves and Fishes Ministries.
“We were approached by people from Wilmot Township. They need someone to take the bull by the horns and organize people to help,” explained Kay Johnson, one of three local residents who spoke on behalf of Schreier, who was unable to attend the event.
Carol Hatton welcomed the crowd of about 40 residents and community leaders and emphasized the importance of having Wilmot Township residents complete a questionnaire that detailed the size of their households and their most pressing needs, which might include appliances or renovations. Hatton acknowledged that there were more people from Wilmot Township who need assistance than were present at the meeting, and she urged those in attendance to take questionnaires with them for their neighbors to fill out and drop off at Brewed Awakening on Main Street in Wyalusing. She was especially concerned about reaching out to the elderly and people with physical disabilities, who were not at the meeting and who are most likely unable to make repairs on their homes themselves.
“We know that some of you have already gotten started,” Hatton said to the residents, but she noted that assistance might still be available to them to complete their work.
Hatton introduced Lewis, who noted that the deadline for registering with FEMA for flood relief is Monday, Nov. 14. He also related important information to audience members who had already contacted the agency for assistance. Lewis encouraged anybody whose application had been denied to appeal the decision. Not only was it possible that inspectors had missed something significant when they initially visited each home, sometimes the reason for rejection can be as simple as a misspelled word or incorrect number used on the application form.
Lewis also disclosed that, as of Sept. 13, more than 1,600 Bradford County residents had registered with FEMA, and $8,740,000 had already been allocated. Most claims result in an average payout of $5,000, while the maximum amount a homeowner may receive is $30,200. In Bradford County, 113 people have already reached that limit, which means that they were likely found eligible for home repairs, vehicle replacement, and rental assistance.
“Everybody’s case is different,” Lewis stated. “You could live right next door to each other and get a different amount of money.”
Lewis and Doug Sivers encouraged flood victims to visit a Disaster Recovery Center if they had not already done so, noting that there are representatives and literature available from additional agencies that might be able to provide services not covered by FEMA. Residents can go to the recovery center that is the most convenient to them. For example, if a Bradford County resident works in Tunkhannock, he or she can stop at the recovery center there if it is more convenient than driving to Towanda.
Lewis indicated prior to the meeting that he was hoping to link the Wilmot Township group with recovering groups that he had helped to coordinate in Towanda and in the Sayre/Athens area. “In the long-term, I would like to see all three groups work together,” he remarked.
A number of those present indicated that they were not interested in being grouped with flood victims upstream. They want to try to work with as many local businesses and volunteer organizations as possible, and they clearly resented numerous suggestions made by Lewis that volunteers assist only homeowners and not renters, comments that he later rescinded and for which he apologized.
One resident spoke up and said, “Rentals are homes too. They all need help.”
Group co-coordinator Virginia Woodruff explained to Lewis that, as a community, the Wilmot Township residents do not discriminate between homeowners and renters. “There is such a shortage of housing, if you don’t fix up that rental unit, those people will have no place to go,” she stated.
Sugar Run resident Don Pickett added, “I think that FEMA has been insensitive about landowners and rentals.”
David Buck, who owns a business, a storage building, and a rental property in Wilmot Township that were flooded, related that his application to FEMA was denied on the grounds that each of the buildings is business-related. He is trying to rebuild each of them simultaneously and will now seek help via the Northern Tier Disaster Recovery Loan Fund, which is offering no-interest loans.
Kay Johnson brought the conversation back into focus by reminding Lewis and other audience members that most of the assistance that the group is hoping to coordinate will come through local resources and not from FEMA. Lewis was invited, she added, to help provide a roadmap for recovery, a task that he indicated he was still capable and willing to do. Johnson noted that there is a group of students from the Northern Tier Career Center (NTCC) that is willing to do work in the community, and her goal with the meeting was to establish a needs list, so that the group could make the most of the help of the NTCC youths and out-of-state volunteers that the Beebes are inviting to the area to assist with recovery efforts.
Johnson, Woodruff, and Hatton respectively offered their phone numbers for Wilmot Township and other area residents to call for assistance. Flood victims in the area who have needs that are not being met may call 570-746-1140, 570-869-1257, or 570-746-3082 for more information. Copies of the “needs assessment questionnaire” can be picked up at the Rocket-Courier office, 196 State St. (Route 6), Wyalusing, and at Brewed Awakening on Main Street.