Remembering Lee Floods, A Test Of Resiliency And Community In Owego
BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — This year marks a decade since flood waters from Tropical Storm Lee left residents across the region displaced, without electricity, and scrambling to save their homes. WSKG is sharing some of their stories.
Tom Clark, Talcott Street
The flooding displaced many residents. Among them was Tom Clark, owner of Ahwaga Paints and Floor Coverings. He said he was fortunate a friend who was unaffected and allowed him to stay there.
"That some times even challenges a friendship," Clark said. "You put them out even though you're there as a guest."
Clark said he was lucky to be invited in for two weeks. Some people were sheltering with friends for months.
Ahwaga Paint also flooded. The business lost thousands of gallons of paint, but was a source for materials as people rebuilt.
Julie Nucci and Jim Overhiser, Main Street
When the flood caused irreparable damage to their home, Julie Nucci and Jim Overhiser took it as an opportunity to rebuild so it would fare better in future floods. As Nucci put it, neither she nor the 200-year-old home could take it again.
"If you don’t have an elevation certificate, get one," Nucci urged other homeowners.
An elevation certificate can allow a homeowner to assess the flood risk of their home. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), it is is a tool used by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It shows a house's "lowest point of elevation, flood zone, and other characteristics," helping insurance companies determine the proper premium rate, and homeowners determine how much higher the house needs to be to be out of the floodplain. The document is generated by a surveyor.
If it is a historic home there are added issues to elevating it, like being so many feet high to be safe but still honoring the historic integrity of the home by New York standards. Nucci said landscaping played a big role in making the home look like it always had.
The two also brought up utilities from the basement.
Nucci hopes the experience of Owego residents will be a cautionary tale for others in flood prone regions.
"She would go into this tearful thing as we were lifting a table," Overhiser remembered, although Nucci does not. He added it is not something that would last long. "You gotta push emotions aside because there's very practical things you have to get done."
They quit when the water was up to their hips, hoping they had done enough. When the waters receded enough that they could see their floors again, they got back to work. They hosed the mud off the walls.
"We started squeegeeing water out the side door, the front door. Squeegeeing water into the cold air return because we knew we had lost our furnace," Overhiser said.
Then a few days later, they started gutting the place.
"We just took pictures of everything and started gutting because we were worried about mold," Nucci explained.
"A friend of ours that's a lawyer and she said 'don’t wait because the insurance company might not pay if you didn’t try to remediate as soon as possible,'" Overhiser added. He wished there was an expert locally who is available to people immediately after a disaster and able to speak frankly about what people need to do.
Overhiser feels grateful because he could rely on Nucci, his then girlfriend.
In an email to WSKG, Nucci said "this work is my passion project on the side." The village appointed her as the Flood Resiliency Coordinator for Owego, an unpaid position. She said small governments do not have the capacity to deal with this level of a disaster, they are understaffed or underfunded.
"We have no certified floodplain manager in the Village of Owego, despite most of the village being in the floodplain," Nucci added there is a lot to do.
Nucci and Overhiser have since gotten married. They said they left "for better or worse" out of their vows, because, after living through the 2011 flood, they proved they could make it though the worst.
Kim Trahan, Front Street
The family who owned the home before Kim Trahan assured her the house had been in their family for a hundred years and had never flooded. In 2011, Trahan watched as water came in from under the door of the garage.
She went to another home around the corner, where Trahan and several others stayed together during the disaster.
Two days after the flood was the birthday of a friend among the group, and, although times were desperate, they wanted to celebrate.
They heard the electricity was out at Thompson's Grocery and they were handing out water and ice cream. Thompson's closed in 2018.
"So, we walked north in Owego, away from the water. We walked across the railroad tracks."
Along the way, she noticed her neighbor who had been hammered by the flood, sitting on the train depot across from the Agway with a grocery cart full of her things. Trahan said that neighbor was around 90-years-old at the time.
"And she pushed her grocery cart all the way from her house to there. So her daughter could come and get her."
After they got the ice cream to celebrate their friend’s birthday. They went back to Trahan’s stranded neighbor. She was still there, and they stopped to be with her. They danced although they were overwhelmed by the disaster. They ate ice cream and had a birthday party on the steps of the train depot.
Bob and Sandy Layman, The Cellar
In 2003, the Bob and Sandy Layman bought their restaurant, The Cellar. As its name suggests, The Cellar started in the basement, but rising flood waters forced them upstairs due to flooding.
"In ‘04 it flooded like a typical flood back then," Bob said.
It was up to the first step. The next year, they had 33 inches of water in the basement. The year after that, 2006, was even worse with 78 inches of water.
"Which completely wiped out the restaurant."
They lost a lot of equipment and food.
In 2011, they knew they could not save the food for their restaurant, so they started cooking for the community. Contractors working on recovery efforts, and the people who lost their own kitchens or electricity in the flood.
People brought ingredients from their homes, the Laymans had coolers hooked up to generators, and lines of people started showing up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"I guess what it is is that Bob and I feed people and it didn't change," Sandy said. She remembered one family in particular, a woman with her children and elderly mother. "It was our happy spot. It was our therapy to feed people."
They fed their community for ten days, until people found shelter and the lines started thinning.
Together they have 90 years in the restaurant business and married for 35.
*Content gathering for this story came courtesy of Julie Nucci.