Friday, September 16, 2011

What a day!

   We were given a rare opportunity for service this Thursday.  Some of the communities in our temple district down along the Pennsylvania and New York border have been experiencing severe weather the last two week from the hurracane that hit the east coast and another severe storm right after it.  This caused the Susquahanna River to flood.  In Owego, NY, the river rose over 20 feet above its banks causing disastrous damages throughout the villiage and surrounding area.  Historically the river has flooded here about once in every 100 years.  However this is the 2nd major flood in 5 years.

   In response to the disaster, the Church is sending in the Mormon Helping Hands disaster recovery volunteers to help out.  President Sherwood offered the help of the temple missionaries and as a result all of the 20 couples who were able, were sent to Owego to help in the assessment phase.  The Church didn't want the senior missionaries doing the actual recovery work (They were afraid we might hurt ourselves) so they had us go door to door throughout the whole area talking to the people and filling out forms with requests for help.  Those forms will now be evaluated and the Helping Hands volunteers next week will be sent to the homes with the greatest needs.

  We left early Thursday morning for Owego prepared to spend Thursday and Friday doing the assessment for Helping Hands.  We arrived at the Stake Center in Owego about 9:30 am where we were trained, divided into groups of two couples each, given our assigned areas to work in and then sent out by 10:00 to begin working in our areas. 

The first area we were given was a neighborhood on the side of the valley.  They were significantly higher than the river.  While some had flooding in their basements from the heavy rains, none had any serious damage to their homes.  As we talked to them they expressed their concern for those in the other parts of the city, and we learned of their efforts to help others. 

The next area we were given was in the bottom of the valley, right next to the river.  What a disaster!  The damage to the homes, and the piles of debris were huge.  The water had not only flooded their basements, but in some areas was up to 3 or 4 feet above the main floor level.  All the furnishings had to be taken out.  All the dry wall that was wet has to be ripped out.  All the carpeting has to be torn out.  The flooring has to be ripped up.  We saw some homes where the foundations caved in and the yards were in the basements.  We saw two homes that had completely burned to the ground, probably due to electrical system failures.

No one can live in any of these homes currently.  There is no power, water and sewage.  They are just trying to get the homes emptied, repaired, and then ready for living in.  It has been a week since the last storm and some had help from family, friends and their churches already.  Many others however were just coming back to the disaster after having been evacuated.  Others had no help and were trying to do it on their own.  We were able to find some who would need the help of our Helping Hands volunteers who will be here next week.  They are expecting upwards of 300 members to be there.  This week the local stake is concentrating on helping their members. 

Here is the river that brought all the water.  It is now almost back to its normal level.
Beautiful Susquehanna River near Owego, NY

This is the neighboorhood we were canvassing.  People were just empting out their homes and putting it on the front of their property. 

Another load of someones possessions is dumped and hauled off.

This was a sign on a telephone post in our neighboorhood.  It marked the elevation of the flood in 1929.  Notice the spike just above the sign.  This flood was about the same height.
These next two pictures are of the same house.  Notice the gap under the front porch.  The foundation has caved in.  You are seeing into the basement.  In the following picture the front plantings are now in the basement.

Here is one of the homes that burned

The next two pictures are a sample of the mess in downtown Owego.  Piles of debris outside every building waiting to be scooped up by front loaders and hauled away by dump trucks..

We finished up our 2nd area about 4:00pm and went back to the stake center to turn in our assesment sheets.  We expected another assignment for the next morning, but were told that the assessing process was almost done and we wouldn't be needed on Friday.  We were to go home.  It appears that the "Temple Missionaries Team" accomplished in one day what they expected was going to take two.  It felt good to be a part of the bigger picture that will continue next week as the volunteers come in to help these people.  However, one side of me all day long wanted to quit this "assesment" and just dig in and help these people.

So what have we learned.  We were pleasantly amazed at people's concerns for each other.  Many said to us, "We have friends and family and we will have this house empty in two more days.  There are others that have no help.  Please go to them."  Many in the community are taking in those who no longer have a home.  Some have given up.  "We are getting what belongings we have and are leaving.  The bank can have the house."

Many expressed their gratitude that things weren't worse.  We are not aware of any serious injury or death.  One good man summed it up this way:  "The hardest thing I ever did was bury my daughter.  This doesn't even come close." 

As we looked at all the destruction and the possessions waiting to be hauled off, our hearts went out to these people.  And yet doesn't this put into persective our lives and what is important.  "Things" come today and are gone tomorrow.  None of that is really important.  What is important is our relationships to each other and to our Heavenly Father and his Son.  We need to strengthen those relationships.  Those relationships, especially with The Father are what will pull us through the trials/disasters that will come into our lives.

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