Local officials: Flood damages grossly understated

Home heating oil and sewage mixed with floodwaters on Horton Avenue after the record rainstorm. A month later, worries abound over environmental and health problems related to flooded roadways and a stubbornly high water table.

Elected and civic leaders looking to make the federal government reassess damages suffered in Riverhead and the rest of Suffolk County after last month’s record rainstorm are holding a media event 11 a.m. Monday on Horton Avenue.
Officials are hoping to encourage people whose homes and businesses were flooded by the storm, which spanned four days from March 27 to March 31, to come forward to report any damages.
Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen said lawmakers are trying to round up as many politicians as possible to put pressure on Washington to deliver federal aid to flood victims.
“I get the impression the federal government is hoping we’ll go away,” Mr. Gabrielsen said.
Governor David Paterson announced April 15 that storm damage in the region was not sufficient to warrant an application for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Instead he asked the Small Business Administration to make low-interest loans available to flood victims, which the agency has agreed to do.
But many local renters and homeowners live on fixed incomes and have said they would not qualify for the loans.
Although some businesses and private citizens have come forward with donations, Mr. Gabrielsen said a substantial amount of money is needed to tackle cleanup efforts, and perhaps move some of the homes in the Horton Avenue neighborhood to higher ground.
“We don’t need a band-aid, we need a fix,” he said.
Shirley Coverdale, wife of Pastor Charles Coverdale of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, said prior damage assessments throughout the town and county were grossly understated.
She said that although Horton Avenue was the epicenter of destruction, there were people across the East End who lost their oil burners and many possession due to flooded basements. And the subsequent high water table, which she said will likely suffer from pollution from roads, farms and septic tanks, is only going to compound the damages.
“People, a month after this happened, are still pumping out all over the place,” Ms. Coverdale said.
She and others feel the environmental impacts to groundwater and the bays and Long Island Sound could be enormous, and fear a massive mosquito problem in the months ahead.
The Long Island Organizing Network will also be hosting a meeting at the First Baptist Church May 8 at 8 a.m. where people can state the damages they suffered, or even observed after the storm to get an even better handle on the devastation.
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