SCHOHARIE, N.Y. -- Firefighters with the Clarksburg Volunteer Fire Company responded to a call on Saturday, but it wasn't for a fire or car accident.
Instead, six firefighters traveled to Schoharie County, N.Y., to help rebuild communities that are still in ruins from Tropical Storm Irene. Irene hit on Aug. 28, 2011.
"In our area, with the exception of The Spruces Mobile Home Park, there were small pockets of damage from the storm. Out here, several homes in several communities had four and a half feet of water on the first floor. The damage is more widespread and devastating, and these people need a lot of help," said Clarksburg firefighter Robert Goodell, who has been coordinating the fire department's visits to Schoharie County as part of a larger Berkshire County volunteer effort.
There were more than 900 homes in Schoharie County that were heavily damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene and as a result of that extensive damage, the county's residents are going to need help for the next couple of years, he said.
"Last weekend, three of us went out, and this weekend, six of us went out," he said Saturday. "Today we went with some electrical skills, some plumbing skills and some general labor skills. Today alone, we were able to help four to six different households in some way."
While Goodell did electrical work at three houses, Fire Chief Carlyle "Chip" Chesbro and firefighter Tom Therrien spent the day getting a bathroom in a home back online.
Firefighters Steven Beagle, Krystal Beaudreau and Jason Beagle visited several homes and a business, where they installed insulation, covered a ceiling and walls with polyurethane and moved furniture.
Goodell said he learned about the volunteer-driven effort to rebuild the village of Schoharie and other towns in the county from Stephen Coonradt, a co-worker at General Dynamics in Pittsfield and native of Middleburgh, N.Y., which is in Schoharie County.
Coonradt said Saturday that he has made about 10 weekend visits to Schoharie County since Irene to volunteer with Schoharie Recovery Inc., which is in charge of coordinating volunteers to help rebuild homes and businesses.
"We've made some good progress, but there is still a long way to go," Coonradt said.
Schoharie was one of the hardest-hit communities, with floodwaters topping the banks of the Schoharie Creek at a level that matched a "500-year flood" -- so high it's only expected once in every 500 years, he said.
"We've had to go in and remove drywall, insulation and most furniture and appliances out of the first floors of almost all the homes in Schoharie," he said.
One of those homes is owned by 82-year-old Emily Henry, who prior to the arrival of volunteers on Saturday was down on her hands and knees digging out mud from a French drain in the basement of her ranch house.
"The miracle that has happened has been the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers. They have been outstanding," Henry said. "You can't imagine the goodness of people and what they've done. People have come from everywhere to help."
Next to a trailer where volunteers sign in with Schoharie Recovery, a building has been turned into a cafeteria where, for the past six months, volunteers have provided daily lunches to other volunteers.
Food Service Coordinator Emily Davis said the Loaves and Fishes Café started as an outdoor grill with some assistance from the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
"Within two weeks after the flood, they were done helping, and we moved on to serving whatever was donated, and the donations have increased," she said.
Currently, the café is feeding between 35 and 150 people a day, she said.
Goodell said that because Schoharie is about two hours away and it's been six months since Irene hit, people think everyone is back on their feet.
"That couldn't be farther from the truth here," he said. "There is just so much you can do out here to be of substantial assistance."
Coonradt said anyone interested in volunteering with the Schoharie County flood relief efforts can contact him. He can be reach by phone at 518-429-9301, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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