Fort Plain residents pick up pieces, National Guard deployed

FORT PLAIN – Greg Erhardt, of 45 Reid St., was one of many residents rummaging through the muck and mud this morning trying to clean up property damaged by Friday’s flooding.

Erhardt said it is going to be a long time before he and his neighbors restore their houses.

He said it doesn’t help that backloaders and other cleanup equipment only will be available until Friday.

“We only have them for two more days?” he asked. “It is going to take two years to have this place back to normal.”

Rick Sager, deputy emergency management coordinator for Montgomery County, said this morning the equipment will be available until Friday, and starting next week, there will be limited pickup of debris. He said if the area receives federal assistance, that could change.

The flooding from the Otsquago Creek severely damaged homes and businesses in the village, especially near Abbott and Reid streets. The flooding claimed the life of one resident, Ethel Healey, 87, who lived on Reid Street.

Erhardt crawled around his yard covered in mud from head to toe this morning trying to prepare things to be hauled away.

Erhardt’s yard, like many others, is covered in mud and debris, including metal, plastic, cans and branches scattered throughout his property along the Otsquago Creek.

Erhardt said anything that retains water will have to be thrown out and replaced, including insulation and items such as beds and couches.

He said he has been working tirelessly over the last several days trying to clean his yard with the help of more than 40 people from the local Amish communities. He said he would be in a more difficult situation if it weren’t for their help.

“The Amish have been amazing helping me around here,” Erhardt said this morning. “They are great, hard-working people that just want to help out.”

He said that on Friday morning, he woke up to the Otsquago Creek, which runs along the back of his property, reaching the top of the bank. Within minutes, water was approaching his home. He said he attempted to salvage his log splitter in the yard but was unable to do so. His truck also was flooded.

“It was like a beaver dam breaking loose,” Erhardt said. “Within just a few seconds, it went from a few inches to a few feet.”

He said he made sure his 86-year-old father who lives with him was in their Jeep and on the road for higher ground.

After his father left, he said, the bridge that goes over the creek became flooded because uprooted trees and branches prevented the water from traveling underneath, leading it to pour over the street.

He said the damage could have been prevented if locks down the river had been opened the night before.

However, Sager said this morning the flooding in the Fort Plain area was unpreventable.

Hundreds of volunteers have traveled from as far away as Maine and Pennsylvania to help, but the majority of help has come from the surrounding communities, said the Rev. Nancy Ryan of the Fort Plain Reformed Church.

She said since they started keeping track Sunday, about 350 people have lended a hand to those in need, and more continue to come every day.

Ryan said it is important for homeowners in the area to know the task of repair doesn’t have to be done alone. Anyone in need of assistance can fill out a short form of where they live and what needs to be done, and Ryan will then send a group of volunteers in that direction.

She said they always need cleaning supplies and gloves for the volunteers, but primarily, they need people to help.

“We need people more than anything,” Ryan said. “If they can work a few hours or even all day, it is all appreciated by this community.”

Approximately four families remained in the shelter at the Harry Hoag School in the village Tuesday night, Sager said.

State officials have asked for donations to help victims and said they would push for the federal government to declare the area a disaster area.

If FEMA declares it a disaster area, further resources would be available to help the village and flood victims.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer was expected to be in the area around today, and Sager said he is hopeful he will have some indication of whether the area will receive federal assistance.

Although the village is still in recovery, officials are hoping the annual 4th on the 3rd celebration today will lift the spirits of the community.

“Many of these people lost pictures and personal items that can’t be replaced, so they are really hurting,” Sager said this morning. “Continuing the tradition and giving something for these people to do will hopefully bring some relief.”

In other flood-related news:

Cuomo activated a flood help line. The number is 1-888-769-7243.

Road closures in Fort Plain include Abbott Street in Fort Plain, Route 80 in Fort Plain, Route 5S in Fort Plain and Main Street in Fort Plain.

Cuomo directed the state Department of Environmental Conservation to issue an emergency declaration to authorize immediate work in 23 counties, including Montgomery County. This allows the DEC to issue permits for emergency repairs.

Cuomo deployed 250 National Guard members to help residents and businesses. Heavy equipment also was deployed.

A total of 248 electric meters were out of service Tuesday in Fort Plain.

The Red Cross is continuing a shelter at the Harry Hoag School in Fort Plain. The distribution of cleaning materials and snacks and water will continue at the United Methodist Church at 39 Center St. The Red Cross mobile kitchen remains in operation.

Montgomery County Public Health recommends people working or wading in floodwaters get a tetanus shot if they haven’t had one in the last 10 years.