National Guard lends a hand in Fort Plain

FORT PLAIN – The National Guard is helping with the village’s effort to clean up from last week’s devastating flood.

Guard members have been in the village since Wednesday helping the local Department of Public Works and the state Department of Transportation repair damage, said Rick Sager, deputy emergency management coordinator for Montgomery County.

“The people that are here right now volunteered,” said Guard Specialist Michael Lilley. “They all came here because they wanted to be here.”

He said the Guard brought equipment, including bulldozers, loaders and dump trucks. Excavators are on the way, he said this morning.

Lilley said Guard members have been cleaning storm debris and rocks along the creek bed and will remain in the area to provide assistance “until the job is completed.”

“These people needed a lot of help cleaning up this mess,” Lilley said. “Everyone here takes pride in helping their fellow New York state citizens.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo deployed 250 National Guard members along with 27 pieces of heavy equipment to help with debris removal and security, according to a news release.

The flooding last Friday caused severe damage to village businesses and homes, especially those on Abbott and Reid streets. Ethel Healey, 87, died in the flooding after floodwaters washed away her Reid Street house, which she was in at the time.

Cuomo on Thursday deployed the Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Command Center to help homeowners and businesses affected by the flood damage. Those in need of assistance are advised to call the DFS Disaster Hotline at 1-800-339-1759.

Sager said this morning a lot of work has been completed over the last week to stabilize the banks along the waterways and rearrange the channels to prevent a disaster like this from occurring again.

He said the focus soon will shift from the village to the outlying areas, including bridges south of Fort Plain that were damaged.

Sager said crews still need to go to those bridges to determine the cost of damage.

Hundreds of volunteers took advantage of the holiday Thursday to help village residents, said the Rev. Nancy Ryan of the Fort Plain Reformed Church.

She said the volunteers’ efforts today are shifting from cleanup to reconstruction. She said some volunteers are putting up wallboard inside people’s damaged homes.

Ryan said the volunteers also will start to help outside the village in places such as Van Hornesville, which also received flood damage.

“Van Hornesville has hardly been touched and needs help, so we are still taking volunteers,” Ryan said.

“The community has been so thankful and relieved to have all this help,” she added.

Volunteers have been spending hours over the last week helping people in the village such as Robert Andrews, of 87 Canal St.

Andrews said he has been cleaning mud out of his basement this week and will need to replace several important items in his home, including a circuit breaker, furnace and potentially a water heater.

He said last Friday he stepped outside with his morning coffee and noticed water was flowing a few blocks to his right down Main Street, so he ran inside to make a phone call to his daughter to let her know.

However, after only a brief conversation on the phone, he returned to his porch and the water was already at his feet.

“It was only a few minutes and it was at my porch,” Andrews said.

He said he had to get his wife and grandchildren to higher ground at the shelter at the Harry Hoag School.

Starting next week, there will be limited pickup of debris, Sager said. He said if the area receives federal assistance, that could change.

No decision about Federal Emergency Management Agency aid has been made.

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.

“Sometimes government doesn’t move that fast, but we remain hopeful,” Sager said this morning.

The American Red Cross planned to open bulk distribution sites today in the village.