Displaced neighbors face an uncertain future

Picture more than a dozen houses all engulfed in flames on the same morning. The devastation from the flooding on Horton and Osborn avenues is just about as bad as that.

The people there need help, not only from town workers and the federal government, but also from the rest of us — their friends and neighbors in Riverhead. A fundraising effort already is under way through First Baptist Church of Riverhead, and we urge our readers to contact the church if they can help — if not with cash, then with donations. Even a kind word could go a long way.

Governor Paterson could make the call as soon as Friday on whether or not to ask the president to declare a disaster area in the town. If President Obama does so, it would pave the way for Federal Emergency Management Agency money to be directed to area homeowners in the form of low-interest or no-interest loans, or grants or rental assistance for displaced residents. That should happen, and happen quickly, but those concerned about the victims should keep in mind that the recovery will be long and arduous.

Consider this: Not only will they have to find permanent or temporary homes, a tiring undertaking in itself, they’ll also have to somehow furnish them. Some will have to continue making payments on cars that were totaled in the flood, as water damage is often not covered by car insurance. Their new rents may be higher than what they were paying on Horton or Osborn, and FEMA rental assistance programs often expire after just a few months.

Toys, books and electronics — the most prized possessions of kids and teens — may never be replaced. That’s to name just a few emotional and financial challenges facing these families in an already down economy.

The town appears to be on the right track in exploring long-term ways to solve the problems in the low-lying neighborhood, even if that means making the tough choice of condemning properties and relocating families to make way for better drainage in the natural bowl. A new look at farm runoff also should, and likely will, be explored in Town Hall.

But that’s no consolation for the families who are right now living in cramped motels or with relatives, all while trying to carry on in school or at work. They’ll need help not only today and tomorrow, but in the months ahead.