Steuben County officials estimate flood damage at millions
An army of volunteers remains in action in southern Steuben County this week, helping local residents, businesses and schools during the clean-up phase of last week’s historic flooding.
For county officials, this phase of the process also includes a lot of tallying as the financial toll of flood damage comes to light.
Up to a dozen structures were completely destroyed, and about 25 others sustained major damage, Steuben County Public Safety Director Tim Marshall told the county legislature on Monday. Authorities estimated that more than 500 homes and businesses were damaged.
“People are going to be in there for the long haul,” Marshall said.
The county is trying to document every dollar of damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Fred. Marshall said the statewide damage toll will need to reach $ 30 million for the county to be eligible for FEMA financial refunds.
Steuben County expects to approach that number on its own. In addition to extensive damage in the town of Woodhull, the nearby town of Jasper was also hit hard, with Jaspe-Troupsburg High School suffering extensive flood damage.
“With the damage done to the school, that figure alone is huge,” County Director Jack Wheeler said. “If you look at the infrastructure damage that we have suffered, that the state has suffered, we are already pushing that ($ 30 million).”
The Central District of Jasper-Troupsburg is working with Canisteo-Greenwood to house its high school students in the vacant Greenwood building when the school opens in September. Volunteers from both communities descended on the Greenwood building on Sunday for a working session that sped up the process. JT’s building is expected to require major renovations before students can return.
“Everything on this (first) floor is toast,” Wheeler said.
Lawmaker Robert Nichols noted that FEMA assistance will be essential for residents. Many did not have flood insurance because the area rarely saw such floods, Nichols said.
State staff went door to door to help assess damage to private property. Teams from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Mennonite Disaster Services, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief and the American Red Cross were all working in the Woodhull area on Monday. A command center has been set up at the Woodhull Community Center to receive donations and work with teams of volunteers to access properties in need of assistance. Marshall said additional crews will arrive and work is expected to continue for three weeks.
“We’re not just focusing on Woodhull, but Woodhull is the epicenter of that and they have the most damage,” Marshall said. “We’re basing it from there, but these teams will be able to contact people in Jasper, Troupsburg and other areas that have been affected, including Addison.”
As the Woodhull Community Center works with donations, Marshall urged residents to donate money rather than drop off merchandise.
“You can be overwhelmed by whatever people bring,” he said. “There is definitely a need there, but having to sort it all out and distribute it is a big manpower problem, so monetary donations are the best way (to help).”
The county is in the process of setting up a donation campaign through a trust partner.
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Impact on local roads
Parts of seven state and county highways in Steuben County remain closed, with sections of highways 21, 85, 103, 129, 31, 417 and 36 closed to traffic. The roads that remain open have also been affected by the flooding. The public works department assessed the damage.
“There are a lot of roads with erosion on the ditches,” Public Works Commissioner Vince Spagnoletti said. “It will cost us about $ 400,000 in labor and equipment, which is within our budget, and an additional $ 400,000 for materials. We will need a lot of rock and asphalt.
In previous floods, the county paid for the equipment out of its existing budget and was reimbursed by FEMA at a later date. A 2003 flood, for example, cost $ 1.1 million.
“Eleven cities are now helping with the trucks,” said Spagnoletti. “We haul gravel from our gravel pits in Avoca, and clean up streams to shorten transport. Allegany County sent five trucks. We expect those five routes to be open by the end of this week, many of them, or by the end of next week.
Marshall praised the teamwork between state, county and local resources in responding to the storm. A whitewater rescue team called from Binghamton carried out eight rescues in the first two hours of the flooding, Marshall said.
“The fire departments and first responders have done a phenomenal job, as have our 911 dispatchers,” Marshall said. “Often our dispatchers are not recognized for these types of events because of everything that is going on in the field, but our dispatchers answered a huge amount of calls during that time and they were on the phone with people in some very, very desperate situations.