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In Gowanda:Village still faces long recovery

August 30, 2009
Observer Today

By TIM LATSHAW

OBSERVER Assistant News Editor

GOWANDA - Three weeks following the flooding of Cattaraugus Creek and its tributaries through Gowanda, the village continues a lengthy recovery process.

All main roads are now open into the village and a sustainable supply of usable water has been maintained.

Most of the piles of refuse that lined the curbsides outside flooded homes have since been picked up.

The school year is quickly approaching, scheduled to begin right on time.

Many people, however, are still faced with the challenges of repairing extensive damages to their homes and recuperating their losses - an impossible task, in some cases.

Yet through these obstacles, many have also tasked themselves with reopening village businesses and conducting community-based outreach.

Business

Becky Hubbard, owner of Gabel Bros. furniture store on West Main Street, was alerted around 11 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 9 to water entering the basement of the main store.

According to Hubbard, much of the inventory in the basement was able to be removed and ended up standing in 2 or 3 inches of water.

Just next door, however, the JC Penney shop ended up receiving about 2 feet of water. Further down from that, the Gabel Bros. secondary storage and showcase area in the Himelein building also suffered 2-3 feet of water in its basement plus water coming in through the front doors.

With many of Gowanda's businesses centralized along Main and Jamestown streets, which converge at the Veterans Memorial Bridge over Cattaraugus Creek, Hubbard noted that the stores closer to the bridge seemed to fare better on average than those farther away.

"It's just kind of strange," she said.

See GOWANDA, Page C2

"I know the [Gowanda Pharmacy] has damage on the main level and in the basement, but if you look in town, that corner by the post office and Jesse's toy store ... that's lower (in ground level), and as you come toward the light, that elevates. So that's why they had maybe waist-high water in the front by the time that all got done and it just started coming in the front door of Gabel Bros. - the actual furniture store - later in the night or early morning."

Hubbard said only part of the claims have been filed for Gabel Bros. and other owned business properties, but she estimated that at least $30,000 has been lost. The store reopened three days after the flood.

In the same block of buildings resides the office for the Gowanda Chamber of Commerce, another one of the harder hit victims in the "business district." The organization has still been busy, though, operating temporarily out of the office manager's house.

According to the Rev. Travis Grubbs, president of the chamber, most businesses reopened soon following the disaster.

"They opened up pretty quickly after the flood," he said. "Even though they were dealing with what flooding they had, there were still able to open for business. That's a blessing for the town." There may be at least one store that will not return, however: All Mighty Dollar, a dollar store that had previously set up shop in the D&F Plaza in Dunkirk.

The open businesses have been eager to pick back up with activities, Grubbs said. The Moonlight Madness event, in which businesses remain open into latenight to give away prizes, was held this past week as scheduled, although the accompanying Ducky Derby was postponed. The chamber is also in the process of organizing an event sometime in September celebrating the flood recovery effort that will include bands from Music in the Park whose previously scheduled appearances were canceled.

The businesses are ready to take all customers, Grubbs said.

"They will appreciate any business they can get to help offset their losses and they still have plenty to offer," he said.

In fact, a number of businesses are offering discounts to other flood victims in the community. Gabel Bros. is offering lower prices on items and appliance repairs and, across the way on Jamestown Street, Custom Carpet Centers is offering lowered prices on its stock.

"People have so many things to replace," manager Peggy Goodemote said. "We're just offering unreal prices because so many people lost floor coverings."

Many in Gowanda do not have flood insurance and the insurance they do have often does not cover everything that was damaged in the flood, making discounts a source of potential relief as financial aid is awaited.

"You only have to have [insurance] if you owe the bank money and you're in the flood zone, so a lot of people don't have it," Goodemote said. "I have only structure - I don't have content - so everything in my garage and in my basement, other than the furnace and the hot water tank, is gone; it's for me to hope we get FEMA money."

Outreach

For smaller items such as clothes, shoes, food and baby items that have been donated to the area, there are several places Gowanda residents can go. The largest storehouse is likely located within the Gowanda Moose Lodge banquet hall, managed by the local chapter of Love in the Name of Christ (Love INC), an interdenominational organization of area churches with the mission of serving people within the Gowanda School District.

With its office located in the still closed Tri-County Memorial Hospital, Love INC was among the displaced following the flood. Even so, the organization arranged a way to help through the Gowanda Moose, but its purposes quickly changed after a massive amount of donated items were shipped in early in the aftermath of the disaster in an effort arranged by Buffalo radio station KISS 98.5.

"They didn't plan on what was coming and they had everything outside of the Assembly of God Church under tents," Love INC organizer Fred Johnson said. "I had talked to the Moose Club and made arrangements for people to sleep here and they gave us the hall."

But as the need for lodging in the hall floundered, its use as a storage area was realized and the donated goods were transferred. The amount of items people wished to give was not going to cease anytime soon, though.

"We started to get phone calls for donations for the food and then people said, 'What else?'" organizer Nancy Johnson said. "And phone call after phone call just led to people wanting to help but didn't know how, so Love INC showed them how to help."

The hall, which regularly houses community events including the Spirit of Gowanda Awards, is now packed with goods needy residents may need, and more can often be found under the outside pavilion, slated to be sorted through.

Food was also quickly determined to be a need among residents. While the Salvation Army was able to concentrate on feeding first responders from the fire hall, it was noticed that many residents were so busy working on their houses that they simply neglected to eat.

Love INC used regional connections, contacting restaurants, fire auxiliaries, businesses, churches and other organizations who donated meals. These have been combined with food items donated independently.

"I think the best way to sum it up is we didn't do a lot of the work; we just know a lot of nice people to call," Nancy said.

"We coordinated the donations first, and then we coordinated the volunteers with a street map, assigned them an area to go to and they actually went door to door delivering the food," Fred said.

Food is also a main feature of the weekly Friday gatherings that now take place at the Moose, which have seen estimated turnouts of 900 to 1,000 people and provided busy people an opportunity to regroup.

"We are going to continue the Friday night cookouts because it's not just about the food; it's about the sharing of stories, the community," Fred said. "It's a community event."

While national organizations were quick to respond to Gowanda and have been essential in providing aid, local organizations such as Love INC have been able to fill niches of need and help the larger agencies receive a layout of the situation.

"The national agencies are saying that every community should have a plan to cover the first 72 hours because it takes that long to mobilize the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the National Guard," Fred said. "So, as local agencies, we need to think about that first 72 hours. We need to feed the people; we need to make sure they're safe."

Love INC is currently searching for a place to move all of the donated items that fill the Moose Lodge hall, as it has been previously reserved for other obligations. But even as a new home is sought, needed items continue to be accepted. Clean socks and underwear are wanted, as are mops, squeegees, cleaning supplies, diapers, canned foods and formula. Appliances and houseware items will be requested in coming weeks as more homes are finished being cleaned out. However, non-working can not be fixed and will only take up space.

For more information on how to donate items or money to Love INC, contact the organization at 532-3541.

Moving forward

Although Gowanda has faced flooding before, the consensus appears to be the 2009 flood has been the worst and widest spread in decades.

"Last time, which was about 10 years ago, it was Thatcher Brook; it was pretty much one area," Hubbard said. "But this time it just seemed like it was all over. I don't think anyone was spared this time."

The power of the water as it flowed through the streets has also been the source of many stories as people witnessed items carried away. Goodemote said her neighbor's car bumping against her house is what woke her up Sunday night.

"I've never gone through something like this," she said. "I was three houses away from where the water kind of originated, so to speak, over the bridge up here (on Jamestown Street). The first five houses got hit really hard and two houses ahead of me were condemned. So I'm fortunate. It didn't get to my first floor living space. It didn't blow out my basement or foundation, so I feel very fortunate. But I found my car three doors down and my daughter's trampoline down here at the corner (near Main Street)."

Making the effort to save inventory from the furniture store's worse-hit section, Hubbard saw other items forced along by the currents.

"As we were trying to get in the back door, we were watching those BFI containers," she said. "The water was so tremendous going down Center Street, it was unreal. The container actually went behind the parking lot and over and probably down into the creek and out to the lake."

Several have spoken, at least according to word of mouth, of not wishing to stay in Gowanda and risk living through another flood - either having gone through similar experiences too many times already or not wishing to witness another disaster of this magnitude. But others plan to stay. Goodemote, who has lived in Gowanda 25 years, says her home and family are there.

"It's tough," she said. "I don't think it's hit everybody totally. And like I say, what happened at my house? I'll get over it. I didn't lose the first floor, so I'm fortunate. My daughter and I are both here. I can get another car. ... It's stuff like that; you just have to think that way."

And if the spirit of resilience remains in Gowanda, so will the spirit of service. The regular Red Cross blood drive took place Wednesday at the Gowanda American Legion, minimally affected by the flood. Carol Goodman, an organizer with Love INC, said she is usually about the 40th donor when she arrives midway through the drive. That day, she was number 94.

"I think God programs an intrinsic desire in us to help people," she said.

"I know the [Gowanda Pharmacy] has damage on the main level and in the basement, but if you look in town, that corner by the post office and Jesse's toy store ... that's lower (in ground level), and as you come toward the light, that elevates. So that's why they had maybe waist-high water in the front by the time that all got done and it just started coming in the front door of Gabel Bros. - the actual furniture store - later in the night or early morning."

Hubbard said only part of the claims have been filed for Gabel Bros. and other owned business properties, but she estimated that at least $30,000 has been lost. The store reopened three days after the flood.

In the same block of buildings resides the office for the Gowanda Chamber of Commerce, another one of the harder-hit victims in the "business district." The organization has still been busy, though, operating temporarily out of the office manager's house.

According to the Rev. Travis Grubbs, president of the chamber, most businesses reopened soon following the disaster.

"They opened up pretty quickly after the flood," he said. "Even though they were dealing with what flooding they had, there were still able to open for business. That's a blessing for the town."

There may be at least one store that will not return, however: All Mighty Dollar, a dollar store that had previously set up shop in the D&F Plaza in Dunkirk.

The open businesses have been eager to pick back up with activities, Grubbs said. The Moonlight Madness event, in which businesses remain open into late night to give away prizes, was held this past week as scheduled, although the accompanying Ducky Derby was postponed. The chamber is also in the process of organizing an event sometime in September celebrating the flood recovery effort that will include bands from Music in the Park whose previously scheduled appearances were canceled.

The businesses are ready to take all customers, Grubbs said.

"They will appreciate any business they can get to help offset their losses and they still have plenty to offer," he said.

In fact, a number of businesses are offering discounts to other flood victims in the community. Gabel Bros. is offering lower prices on items and appliance repairs and, across the way on Jamestown Street, Custom Carpet Centers is offering lowered prices on its stock.

"People have so many things to replace," manager Peggy Goodemote said. "We're just offering unreal prices because so many people lost floor coverings."

Many in Gowanda do not have flood insurance and the insurance they do have often does not cover everything that was damaged in the flood, making discounts a source of potential relief as financial aid is awaited.

"You only have to have [insurance] if you owe the bank money and you're in the flood zone, so a lot of people don't have it," Goodemote said. "I have only structure - I don't have content - so everything in my garage and in my basement, other than the furnace and the hot water tank, is gone; it's for me to hope we get FEMA money."

Outreach

For smaller items such as clothes, shoes, food and baby items that have been donated to the area, there are several places Gowanda residents can go. The largest storehouse is likely located within the Gowanda Moose Lodge banquet hall, managed by the local chapter of Love in the Name of Christ (Love INC), an interdenominational organization of area churches with the mission of serving people within the Gowanda School District.

With its office located in the still closed Tri-County Memorial Hospital, Love INC was among the displaced following the flood. Even so, the organization arranged a way to help through the Gowanda Moose, but its purposes quickly changed after a massive amount of donated items were shipped in early in the aftermath of the disaster in an effort arranged by Buffalo radio station KISS 98.5.

"They didn't plan on what was coming and they had everything outside of the Assembly of God Church under tents," Love INC organizer Fred Johnson said. "I had talked to the Moose Club and made arrangements for people to sleep here and they gave us the hall."

But as the need for lodging in the hall floundered, its use as a storage area was realized and the donated goods were transferred. The amount of items people wished to give was not going to cease anytime soon, though.

"We started to get phone calls for donations for the food and then people said, 'What else?'" organizer Nancy Johnson said. "And phone call after phone call just led to people wanting to help but didn't know how, so Love INC showed them how to help."

The hall, which regularly houses community events including the Spirit of Gowanda Awards, is now packed with goods needy residents may need, and more can often be found under the outside pavilion, slated to be sorted through.

Food was also quickly determined to be a need among residents. While the Salvation Army was able to concentrate on feeding first responders from the fire hall, it was noticed that many residents were so busy working on their houses that they simply neglected to eat.

Love INC used regional connections, contacting restaurants, fire auxiliaries, businesses, churches and other organizations who donated meals. These have been combined with food items donated independently.

"I think the best way to sum it up is we didn't do a lot of the work; we just know a lot of nice people to call," Nancy said.

"We coordinated the donations first, and then we coordinated the volunteers with a street map, assigned them an area to go to and they actually went door to door delivering the food," Fred said.

Food is also a main feature of the weekly Friday gatherings that now take place at the Moose, which have seen estimated turnouts of 900 to 1,000 people and provided busy people an opportunity to regroup.

"We are going to continue the Friday night cookouts because it's not just about the food; it's about the sharing of stories, the community," Fred said. "It's a community event."

While national organizations were quick to respond to Gowanda and have been essential in providing aid, local organizations such as Love INC have been able to fill niches of need and help the larger agencies receive a layout of the situation.

"The national agencies are saying that every community should have a plan to cover the first 72 hours because it takes that long to mobilize the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the National Guard," Fred said. "So, as local agencies, we need to think about that first 72 hours. We need to feed the people; we need to make sure they're safe."

Love INC is currently searching for a place to move all of the donated items that fill the Moose Lodge hall, as it has been previously reserved for other obligations. But even as a new home is sought, needed items continue to be accepted. Clean socks and underwear are wanted, as are mops, squeegees, cleaning supplies, diapers, canned foods and formula. Appliances and houseware items will be requested in coming weeks as more homes are finished being cleaned out. However, non-working can not be fixed and will only take up space.

For more information on how to donate items or money to Love INC, contact the organization at 532-3541.

Moving forward

Although Gowanda has faced flooding before, the consensus appears to be the 2009 flood has been the worst and widest spread in decades.

"Last time, which was about 10 years ago, it was Thatcher Brook; it was pretty much one area," Hubbard said. "But this time it just seemed like it was all over. I don't think anyone was spared this time."

The power of the water as it flowed through the streets has also been the source of many stories as people witnessed items carried away. Goodemote said her neighbor's car bumping against her house is what woke her up Sunday night.

"I've never gone through something like this," she said. "I was three houses away from where the water kind of originated, so to speak, over the bridge up here (on Jamestown Street). The first five houses got hit really hard and two houses ahead of me were condemned. So I'm fortunate. It didn't get to my first floor living space. It didn't blow out my basement or foundation, so I feel very fortunate. But I found my car three doors down and my daughter's trampoline down here at the corner (near Main Street)."

Making the effort to save inventory from the furniture store's worse-hit section, Hubbard saw other items forced along by the currents.

"As we were trying to get in the back door, we were watching those BFI containers," she said. "The water was so tremendous going down Center Street, it was unreal. The container actually went behind the parking lot and over and probably down into the creek and out to the lake."

Several have spoken, at least according to word of mouth, of not wishing to stay in Gowanda and risk living through another flood - either having gone through similar experiences too many times already or not wishing to witness another disaster of this magnitude. But others plan to stay. Goodemote, who has lived in Gowanda 25 years, says her home and family are there.

"It's tough," she said. "I don't think it's hit everybody totally. And like I say, what happened at my house? I'll get over it. I didn't lose the first floor, so I'm fortunate. My daughter and I are both here. I can get another car. ... It's stuff like that; you just have to think that way."

And if the spirit of resilience remains in Gowanda, so will the spirit of service. The regular Red Cross blood drive took place Wednesday at the Gowanda American Legion, minimally affected by the flood. Carol Goodman, an organizer with Love INC, said she is usually about the 40th donor when she arrives midway through the drive. That day, she was number 94.

"I think God programs an intrinsic desire in us to help people," she said.

 
 

 

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