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John Bernardi, center, speaks about his new recovery group's efforts to address the unmet needs of Tropical Storm Irene victims during an event in AuSable Forks on Tuesday. Photo: Chris Morris, Adirondack Daily Enterprise
John Bernardi, center, speaks about his new recovery group's efforts to address the unmet needs of Tropical Storm Irene victims during an event in AuSable Forks on Tuesday. Photo: Chris Morris, Adirondack Daily Enterprise

In Jay, work remains to be done

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A year after Tropical Storm Irene slammed the North Country, a regional coalition has formed to help people still struggling to recover. The Long Term Disaster Recovery Group of Clinton/Essex/Franklin Counties includes nonprofit organizations and state agencies.

The group hosted a special event at the Jay Community Center on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the storm. The event aimed to link victims of the storm with resources to help them get back on their feet.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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Barbara and Wilford Carnes, who live on state Route 9N in AuSable Forks, joined about 50 families who came to check out the services available to them. Their home was damaged by flood waters.

Townspeople and family members helped with repairs, but Barbara says they still have some work to do. She says they had to cut down a lot of trees to prevent them falling on the house, and “some help to get rid of them would be nice.” But, she says, “I know there’s other people that need things done worse than that, and I’m not going to holler and squawk.”

John Bernardi is executive director of United Way for the Adirondack Region, and chairman of the new long term recovery group. He says many people like the Carnes still need help fixing their homes, getting rid of mold and rehabilitating their property. “But there’s also many other needs,” Bernardi says, “from emotional, mental health issues, sometimes health care or lack thereof, and other resources people need to put their lives together during the recovery process. It’s much more than just the physical damage which you would expect.”

Bernardi says it can be difficult for victims of a natural disaster to get the help they need. That’s one of the reasons this new group came together. Bernardi says it will be a permanent fixture in the North Country: “Once we get through this recovery process, which we anticipate going on for quite some time, we will then focus on other areas related to disaster recovery, which might be getting ourselves prepared for the next one and learning from some issues and some mistakes and some things that will help us be prepared for the next time we have a disaster.”

Bernardi says officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency approached him after Irene struck, and asked him to assemble a group to supplement FEMA’s recovery efforts. “FEMA did a great job, and they helped a lot of people,” Bernardi says, “but there’s still a lot of needs out there that we can’t necessarily rely on government to take care of everything.”

In the community center’s gymnasium, agencies and organizations set up informational tables. Couples wander about, asking questions and getting information about services.

Doreen Ocasio of the Clinton County Office for the Aging says her agency still has funding available for people in Clinton County who are older than 60. She says that money could be especially helpful for people who were turned down by FEMA. Other agencies, like Essex County Mental Health, are still working in an educational capacity, connecting flood victims with the appropriate services.

Allegra Mussen of Essex County Mental Health says most people have gotten past the initial shock of the flood, but the long-term effects can still be a problem: “Some people may have some traumatic responses to the disaster…Maybe they’re having some nightmares or very intense dreams about it, or just a heightened response to certain sounds and noises. For people that are in that position, we’ve been able to continue working with them about things that they can do to address those concerns.”

The town of Jay was hit especially hard by Irene. Town Supervisor Randy Douglas says more than 30 homeowners have applied for FEMA’s property acquisition program. The town is also dealing with debris cleanup on private property.

“We were able to receive funding for $500,000 from the governor’s office on a [Department of Environmental Conservation] grant to remove some of the debris,” Douglas says. “I think we were allotted $175,000 for debris on the former Land of Make Believe. But there’s debris on lots of private properties that, in my opinion, could cause a considerable amount of damage to public infrastructure and our residents if it’s not removed.”

Jay has borrowed $3 million to pay for recovery. That figure weighs heavily on town officials like Douglas, who say it’s not clear whether FEMA will reimburse that money. “We’re very hopeful that we’ll fully recover,” Douglass says. “The governor doing the other 12.5 percent is huge for us. … It drains you, we’d be bankrupt...We only have an annual $2.2 million budget.”

Even with those unmet needs still lingering, Douglas says he has faith that communities like Jay and Keene will come somewhere close to making a full recovery. Just when that will happen still remains to be seen.


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