For Households Displaced By Floods, Rural Housing Shortage Poses Issues

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The Red Cross shelter for residents displaced by flooding in Steuben County closed on Thursday. County officials and aid organizations are looking to get those residents into permanent housing.

The devastation in the southern part of the county is largely concentrated in Woodhull, a rural community west of Corning. Roughly 30 homes there were without power as of Thursday, with most of them considered uninhabitable by local code enforcement.

70 to 80 homes in Woodhull were affected by the floods, caused by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Fred last week.

Volunteers with the Red Cross shelter at Addison’s Tuscarora Elementary School said five to six families stayed overnight. Others came by for showers and meals between clean-up efforts. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

Many residents who cannot be in their homes have been staying with family and friends, but those solutions are temporary, said Tim Marshall, Director of Public Safety for Steuben County.

The Steuben County Department of Social Services (DSS) and Catholic Charities are working to find permanent housing options for families, but Marshall said that has come with its own challenges.

“We’re very limited on additional housing solutions in that region, so I’m not sure what the permanent solutions are going to be at this point,” he explained.

Marshall said few, if any, households in the area have flood insurance to lean on. He added that some of them have homeowners’, but a lot of people are either uninsured or underinsured.

Andrea Williams, who lives in Woodhull with her father and sons, is among those displaced without protection.

The home she lived in sat near Tuscarora Creek, which flooded the town and the surrounding area, but Williams said her family was not required to get an insurance policy.

Williams and her family lost everything in the flood, including several thousand dollars worth of racing equipment. An inch of mud coated the floor of their trailer.

Multiple roads along Tuscarora Creek in Steuben County are closed due to flood damage. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

She is staying with an aunt and uncle who live uphill for now, but many county and state roads remain closed. Detours have added another half hour to her drive to Arnot Ogden Medical Center* in Elmira, where her son has been in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU).

“I was actually in the NICU visiting my son when I got a message from my dad saying ‘no home,’” Williams said, recalling the night her family evacuated. “So, I beat feet out of there trying to make it home so we can maybe salvage anything, and I couldn’t even make it through to get home.”

Williams said the support of the entire Woodhull community has been astounding. Throughout town, #Woodhull is painted on signs, and a relief center was quickly coordinated inside the hamlet’s town hall, after the floodwaters washed away the town’s food pantry.

Volunteers have coined the distribution site the “Woodhull Walmart,” which is open to anyone affected by the floods. There, residents can get clothes, food and cleaning supplies, as well as tools and farm equipment.

Down the hall, Catholic Charities has offered its services in the town code enforcement office to help people find financial assistance for housing and other basic needs, as have representatives from the county and the New York State Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

(Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

Marshall, with Steuben County’s public safety department, said federal assistance will be crucial in the area’s recovery. The county is now documenting damages to report to New York State.

In a letter on Wednesday, both New York U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make assistance available as quickly as possible.

Cleanup crews are continuing to work to clean up roads. A state of emergency remains in effect in part of Steuben County until further notice.

Officials have urged residents to call 211 as a central point for assistance.

*Full Disclosure: Arnot Health is a WSKG Underwriter.