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Senior scene

March 3, 2012

From the office: Needs are great, help is plentiful for a long time after a disaster

During the last of week of August and first week of September, our picturesque rural county was ravaged by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

The devastation was overwhelming and the need for help enormous. During the first few weeks, county officials worked with the National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency personnel to meet the basic needs of those directly impacted by the swollen waters that washed away roads, homes, animals and personal belongings.

The disaster has had lasting effects on the community, both in the form of destruction and resiliency. Looking back, the response was nothing short of miraculous.

Immediately following the floods, shelters were opened by volunteers and food donations came pouring in. Seniors were evacuated from housing communities and taken to the shelters. Staff visited with them daily to help vocalize their needs to the shelter volunteers. Older adults on the home-delivered meals program were contacted and assessed for immediate food needs. Modified runs were developed with detours to meet those still in need.

Participants in other programs were also called to assess their flood impact and ensure maintenance of assistance. Local not-for-profit organizations set up flood donation/distribution sites for tons of donations that started coming in. Groups started forming to provide on-the-ground assistance and support. Local government was displaced but up and running in just a few days. Although we all struggled with communication, the goal was always clear: Help wherever and however you can.

That was more than apparent when thousands, yes, thousands of people came into the areas hit by the flooding to help their neighbors, friends or even strangers to remove the tons of water-laden debris from homes and stores.

When the Disaster Recovery Center opened in the county, the local Office for the Aging assisted the state office to man an informational table to specifically meet the needs of older adults. Information collected has been used to help move those that want to stay, back to "a new normal." It has been almost six months since the flooding took place and we are slowly and steadily moving forward. But we still have a long way to go.

After facing this wide-spread area disaster of historic proportion caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, government, social, educational and faith agencies as well as business and community organizations together recognize the need to work together in disaster response, now and in the future.

Schoharie Area Long Term Disaster Recovery was formed as a regional coalition to provide resources, advocacy, healing, support and recovery assistance to those affected by disaster. It is our mission to coordinate and collaborate to maximize all resources to bring our communities to restore not just homes, but hope. A representative from the Senior Council and the Office for the Aging has a seat on the Board of SALT to ensure open and active communications.

SALT has partnered with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to conduct an assessment of long-term recovery needs for all disaster areas. This is the first step in working with families to see that all available services have been applied for and that long—term needs have been identified. The CRWRC teams will also let residents know what other resources are available to assist them.

SALT would like to make all Schoharie Creek basin and surrounding area residents aware of a door-to-door survey that will begin on Monday, March 12. CRWRC teams will be wearing green shirts with the CRWRC logo and will have identification name tags. If residents are not contacted by this group and have unmet needs, please contact the SALT offices at (518) 702-5017. If you need help, call us!

To make sure all of the older adults affected by the flood are counted, it is important to complete this survey. When finished, the Green Shirt team will pass on information of all of those individuals that would like to partner with us to help assist with their recovery effort. If older adults have any concerns or questions, they can call Schoharie County Office for the Aging at (518) 295-2001.

Nancy Dingee is director of the Schoharie County Office for the Aging. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/ seniorscene.

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