Still slogging through mess monster storm left behind

04/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Doreen Fitzpatrick trudges down her waterlogged street in the Millbrook Community mobile home park in Calverton on Tuesday. Many in town are still dealing with flooding problems from last month

Horton Avenue, which saw the worst of the region’s flooding in last month’s record rainfall, was virtually dry by Monday afternoon, a sure sign that progress is being made in the area.

But as residents and local officials await word on federal aid, all agree that Riverhead Town is by no means out of the woods.

A portion of River Road in Calverton collapsed under the weight of water on Tuesday. And residents across the town were still dealing with flooded roads and basements this week.

Residents in one Calverton neighborhood, Millbrook Community on Mill Road, said their streets have been continually flooded due to the water that was pumped from Horton Avenue.

George Buckingham, the manager at Millbrook Community, attributed persistent flooding in the mobile home park to the pumps that were operating on Horton Avenue for nearly 10 days. He said about a dozen families were affected by floodwaters. About six inches of water remained there as of Wednesday.

“The town highway department came and said it wasn’t from them. But the town engineer told us the pumps could have been a factor,” he said. “But no one’s going to admit anything, it’s the town.”

Residents said the water there was inexplicably at an all-time high on Easter Sunday — some five days after the worst of the storm and while the sun was shining and temperatures reached the mid 70s. They said a rancid smell still hung in the air and lamented the inability to park near their homes until a few days ago. Some homes, sheds and appliances were damaged by the water.

“We were suffering with it for two weeks,” said one Millbrook Community resident, Doreen Fitzpatrick.

“I had ducks swimming in my yard,” added her neighbor, Julia Carlson, whose lawn mower and central air conditioning system was destroyed

Riverhead Town Highway Department superintendent George “Gio” Woodson said that the property just south of the mobile home park was once swampland, which may contribute to high groundwater levels instead of pumps on Horton Avenue.

“It’s very hard to say it’s our water” he said of flooding at the mobile home park.

Over on Manor Lane in Jamesport, Bernie Schumejda still could not access his driveway Tuesday due to a two-foot-deep puddle that remained in the road more than two weeks after the storm hit.

“They should at least keep all the traffic off the roads,” he said. “They just make a bigger mess.”

Manor Lane residents are planning to gather tonight, April 15, at 7:45 p.m. at the George G. Young Community Center on South Jamesport Avenue. They also invited town officials to discuss with them solutions to the nagging problem.

Mr. Woodson said the town would once again resume pumping water from the puddle on Tuesday, though he has insisted such efforts may be futile due to the swelled water table.

“The more water you pump, the worse it gets,” he said.

Meanwhile, local officials are still pushing for federal aid for the town’s flood victims, which includes some 13 families that had to evacuate homes on Horton and Osborn avenues March 30.

Dan Aug, a spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, said county officials have been in contact with state authorities, who will make the final push for federal money.

He said the county must determine that the amount of public and private property damage combined in Suffolk County exceeds $4 million. When those findings are sent to Albany, the state government could then piece together its own tally of statewide damage. Statewide damage must be at least $24.8 million for Governor David Paterson to ask for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid. What’s not clear is if that number can include damage from the mid-March nor’easter.

Mr. Aug said the county will continue to work with state and federal officials in the effort. Federal assistance could include low- or no-interest loans, even property replacement grants or rental assistance.

In the meantime, to aid beleaguered residents on Horton and Osborn, Riverhead Town workers were busy pumping water out of basements there this week as the displaced families determine whether they can return to their homes.

Mr. Woodson said crews pumped three basements Saturday and Sunday, and drained about three more Monday afternoon.

Town workers could not access many of the affected homes until this weekend, Mr. Woodson said, citing water-table levels. He predicted it could take another week for groundwater levels to return to normal.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said town officials met with Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) Tuesday morning for yet another discussion on the status of receiving federal aid. Mr. Walter said overtime and independent contractors working to clear the area cost the town about $200,000.

“We’re hoping that the governor declares it a disaster area,” he said.

He said the situation was getting worse as he received reports that some houses in town were lifting as a result of the ground swelling with water. He noted that the town is preparing a document to distribute to residents instructing them how to deal with the flood’s aftermath and how to get FEMA money should Governor Paterson request it from the federal government.

Building department coordinator Leroy Barnes said the town has done all it could for residents, including electrical and mold inspections and helping Suffolk County compile a report on the damages.

Mr. Barnes said Tuesday that electricity had been returned to all but five houses on Horton Avenue.

He said that the building department cannot bar people from re-entering their homes if there is no imminent danger, but it can warn residents if their home is overrun by mold or mildew. “People have to get their own engineers and determine whether or not they want to live there,” he said.

Around town, residents were still doing what they could to help those affected by the floods. Boy Scout Troop 242 has launched a drive to collect soap, laundry detergent, bedding and garbage bags. Those materials can be dropped off at the Moose Lodge in Riverhead Wednesday evenings between 7 and 8 p.m.

The 7-Eleven near the Roanoke Avenue traffic circle has also taken up a collection for one displaced Horton Avenue resident, Ivory Brown, and has so far raised about $1,800.

The First Baptist Church of Riverhead is doing its part as well by collecting money and supplies. Still, church officials say much more is needed.

“Monies are coming in and I guess the more the merrier,” said Shirley Coverdale, wife of Pastor Charles Coverdale. “They’re going to need more help for a time to come.”

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