Owego still struggling with flood recovery


How do you know that's mud"

"Ha. Believe me it's mud. And it's everywhere."

The mud forms a light gray film on baseboards and pots and pans at Pat Williams Owego home.

"There's no getting that out of there. There is none, you can scrub the rest of your life, so what I'm doing if you look around this side, is I'm filling the gaps with mortar."

"Why did you decide to do that?"

"Because there's no cleaning it. You can¿t get that mud out. And then after I finish doing that and get it filled, I¿m going to cover it with ceramic tile."

Williams is a retired schoolteacher who has lived in Owego for more than 30 years. During the flood in 2006, only her basement flooded.

"And that was supposed to be an unprecedented historic flood never to be repeated. And then here we are again, this time in 2011 it was two and half to three feet on the first floor."

This time it was Tropical Storm Lee.

Six months later, Williams has just recovered the ground floor of her house. After first evacuating in the middle of the night, she spent a few days in a shelter, waiting for the water to recede, then stayed with friends for a while. She says the period right after the storm was hard, but getting back into her house didn't make things any easier.

"You start to feel like you¿re losing your mind, looking for something that you knew you once had but now it¿s gone and you have to search for it, search for it, search for it and not find it and finally you have to conclude that you don't have it."

"I think one of the big things is that people¿s daily normal is gone."

Alex Nichols is a crisis counselor with Project Renew, a counseling organization set up by FEMA and the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier. She says all the focus on the progress Owego has made since the flood adds to a sense of isolation for some people.

"They've seen articles in the newspaper and things like that, saying Owego is back and showing pictures of the businesses that were reopening  and the pretty pictures. They're looking at this and going, really? I didn't know that."

Counselors from Project Renew go door-to-door in Tioga and Broome Counties, talking with people who are still struggling to recover.

Nichols says the challenges that Owego resident Pat Williams is going through are pretty common.

"We've run into people that have gotten, say, a recliner and that's such a big deal because they have a place to sit now. Everything is different, there's been a shift in what people are used to."

Tioga and Broome Counties bore the brunt of last year¿s flood damage. Hundreds of homeowners that escaped damage in the 2006 flood were hit by this one. Williams says she is not sure what will happen if people have to go through this again.

"I think, a third time, you¿re going to have a lot more people looking for the door. I don't think a community can take this repeated devastation in any way  financially, psychologically, can't do it."

But there's no doubt that, one day, the Susquehanna will flood again. Local and federal officials are trying to figure out ways to prepare for it. In our next story, we'll explore the options for containing the damage next time.