Bloom Psychological Center Helping Those Affected by Flood

We recently had a chance to talk with Sue Ei, who is a psychologist with the Bloomsburg Psychological Center (BPC).  We talked about their Flood Support Group and how she feels the community is doing after the Flood of 2011.

1. Tell us a little bit about the Flood Support Group.  Obviously the devastation was tremendous with a multitude of people affected, but were there other factors that made your group decide to start it? 

Well, I’ll start by giving credit to CMSU (Columbia, Montour, Snyder and Union Counties of Central Pennsylvania, which is a cooperative arrangement between the four counties to provide mental health, mental retardation and drug & alcohol services).  They came up with the idea and asked for help. Dorothy Ashman asked the staff at Bloomsburg Psychological Center (BPC) for volunteers and agreed to donate a space at the BPC Annex office where people could gather. Several of us at BPC were immediately interested in volunteering to facilitate the group, some because of our own involvement with the flood, and others out of concern for our community. Many of our clients have been directly impacted by the flood, so the need was clear.

2. What are the details? When and where does it occur? And for whom? Eligibility requirements?

The Flood Support Group meets at 7pm on Wednesdays (weather permitting) at the BPC Annex office, 16 Sherwood Drive (in Sherwood Village, behind Campus Clipper). There really are no eligibility requirements; anyone who has been impacted by the flood, or cares about someone who has been impacted, is welcomed. The first Wednesday of the month is open to children, families and adolescents under age 16. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Wednesdays are for adults and older adolescents (age 16 and older). People can call 570-387-1832 for details, including directions or cancellations due to weather.

3. While respecting the privacy we know you must keep, can you give us a general sense of how people are coping? How are the children doing?

I’m forever impressed and encouraged by the resilience of individuals and communities, and the response to the recent flooding was a good example. The community and those affected by the flood really rose up to help and support each other. That said, when such tragedy strikes, it’s pretty difficult to bounce back functionally, financially and emotionally. Many people are not yet back in their homes, some never will be. Some people are living in just a few rooms of the house amid an ongoing chaos of construction, contractors & utility companies, insurance companies, etc. It takes a toll emotionally when a person’s home is not yet restored to a haven of safety and comfort. Coping with such a loss is a challenge that no one should face alone.

A number of factors can impact a person’s ability to cope with devastation. The extent of the damage, financial resources, and ability to make repairs (e.g. availability of contractors, equipment, supplies, etc.) are some of the more obvious issues. As anyone can imagine, it can be really frightening to have a property that wasn’t insured against flood damage, and state and federal funding only stretches so far. Plus, several people in the support group have told stories of insurance companies not making good on their promises. That’s just adding insult to injury.

On top of the more practical issues, people are dealing with emotional reactions, including anger, frustration, anxiety, a deep sense of loss, and the challenges of being displaced. Privacy has become a thing of the past for many of those affected. People are struggling with just wanting to feel normal again.

People who’ve experienced tragedy may notice signs of depression – changes in sleep, loss of pleasure, feelings of isolation, hopelessness or guilt, tearfulness, difficulty concentrating, appetite or weight changes, even suicidal thoughts. Anxiety symptoms are also common and might include racing thoughts, inability to focus or concentrate, feeling “on edge” all the time, excessive worrying, loss of sleep, etc. For some, the flood had a traumatizing effect, leaving the person feeling unsafe even in secure settings.

Kids who are struggling might show behaviors that are not “normal” for that child. For example, a normally independent kid might suddenly be afraid to let parents out of her sight; a social kid might start spending most of his time alone; a diligent student might stop doing homework or stop studying for tests. Shifts in behavior following a tragedy like the flood might mean that a child is struggling to cope.

My colleagues who work directly with children talk about the losses kids have faced. Families talk about confused routines and the challenges of being displaced from the home, neighborhood, and familiar surroundings. Many kids lost favorite books or toys, or had to throw away cherished items that were contaminated by flood waters. Some families are living away from their pets while displaced from the homes.

4. If people know or love someone affected by the flood, what can they do to help?

Some people have gotten fairly good at asking for help; others are more reluctant. If you see a need, consider filling it without being asked, because the chances are good that the person will not ask. Even the smallest gestures can mean the world. A card or a note saying “I’m thinking about you” lets those you care about know that they are on your mind. Small comforts –packets of hot chocolate or a favorite beverage, a toy for the person’s pet, a distraction that you know the person enjoys (puzzle book, hobby supplies) can be an inexpensive way to say “I’m thinking about you.” If you see them out somewhere, a touch on the shoulder and a kind message, such as “I’ve been thinking about you” is often comforting. In our society, we don’t want to intrude, and it’s hard to know what to do or say, but if someone has been on your mind, let them know. It will mean a lot to them.

Also, you might give someone a break from the post-flood chaos. Invite them to dinner, or out to coffee, or to do an activity. Unless they bring it up, don’t discuss the flood. If they want to talk about it, they will. Remember, for many of these folks, flood-related issues take up most of their time and energy. A nice distraction can be wonderful and healing. Allow the person to choose the direction of the conversation, or ask specific questions that focus on other areas of the person’s life (family, work, hobbies, church, etc.).

Finally, if you run into someone who’s been affected, ask yourself this question before you speak to them, “Do I really care about this person, or am I just curious?” If you really care, then a kind word or gesture will be appreciated (e.g. a pat on the shoulder and a short statement, “It’s good to see you; I hope you are well.”). If you are just curious, consider respecting the person’s privacy and just walking by, or saying a quick “hello.”

5. After a trauma like this, what can victims expect? Everyone deals differently, but how long can symptoms last? Aside from talking in support groups like this, is there anything else victims can do to heal?

Everyone heals in his or her own way. Some people find solace in support groups, spiritual pursuits, projects, hobbies, fitness, therapy, or commiserating with friends and neighbors. Others draw into their families, and some people refocus their efforts toward work, clean-up, or helping others. Coping in these ways is healthy and generally moves people toward restoring their lives to normal.

People also sometimes cope in ways that can cause more problems, even if it feels like a good escape at the moment. If you notice that your alcohol use, smoking or recreational drug use has increased, or you are living on junk food, isolating, watching a lot more TV than usual, etc., then you might be struggling to cope. Also, if you find yourself withdrawing from normal activities, sleeping a lot, isolating, or struggling with other symptoms of depression or anxiety (see above), it might be time to reach out for help. Some behaviors can feel like an escape, but if you’re coping in a way that keeps you from moving forward, it might be time to talk to someone. The support group is a good place to start, or with a friend, family member, trusted co-worker or clergy person, counselor, etc. This experience was devastating for individuals and communities; no one should have to go through the recovery process alone.

6. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

We all need a little extra support sometimes. Through the support group, we’re offering an informal atmosphere where people can come together, share common experiences, take comfort, and exchange information. Those in attendance usually choose the topic(s) and the direction of the conversation. Remember, a support group is about getting support, but it’s also about giving support. Your experiences might be just what someone else needs to hear about: to help them feel less alone, learn about a program they need, consider a new way to cope, etc.

We are centered in Bloomsburg, but want to be sure that people outside of the local community know they are absolutely welcomed to attend. We try to make sure that the word gets out, with flyers, postings in the local paper and on Facebook, and by word-of-mouth. Still, we’re concerned that people who could benefit aren’t aware of the group. If you’re reading this, please spread the word.

A Holiday Homecoming

When Janet Lee left her 11th Street home after hearing forecasts of potential flooding related to Tropical Storm Lee in September, she took all of her important papers in her firebox along with an overnight bag. This didn’t seem like a bad choice at the time, as reports were saying the flooding would be similar to 2006, which only caused some water to collect in the crawl space of the home. Janet regrets that decision now, “Hindsight is always 20/20.”

Janet’s daughter, Shelly, has been on the front lines with her mother dealing with both the flooding, the clean-up, and the rebuilding. “Honestly, we really didn’t think the flood was going to be as bad as it was … With not knowing really what to think and after some resistance, my mom did evacuate on Wednesday night as we asked her to do.”

Unfortunately the early forecasts didn’t predict the historic nature of the flooding. Mrs. Lee’s home (which is all on one level) was inundated with four and a half feet of water destroying nearly everything in its path.

The family was devastated by the damage. Shelly said, “The home had to be completely gutted down to the studs and sub-floor. With having a ranch style home that meant every room was affected. After the demolition, it required extensive scrubbing, cleaning and disinfecting. I feel that since we removed the walls, insulation, and flooring on day 1 of clean up, we saved ourselves from dealing with mold. We had none in the home.”

But that type of clean up takes time. “[My mom] came and stayed with me for the first two weeks at my home on Fair St. in Bloomsburg. She continued to live with me and/or my brother Frank while displaced. Thankfully, housing was never an issue for her.”

The Lee family was overwhelmed by both the damage and the efforts of the community to help rebuild. “Having never been through a flood and not knowing what to expect, it was extremely overwhelming emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally. Thankfully we had help from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, church members, neighbors, classmates, AGAPE, and the BU Football and Wrestling teams. Everyone was amazing! I was grateful for Facebook, which allowed me to post when we needed help, and also to find out what was going on in town or with AGAPE.”

This help allowed the family to begin to think about rebuilding. “Our builder, John McCarrie was from Hazleton as were several of our sub-contractors. They were truly a blessing from above. As soon as we were cleaned up and ready, they were on the scene ready to go. He made the process very easy for my entire family. After meeting with our builder at the beginning of October, he assured us that she would be back in her home by Thanksgiving. He kept his word.”

And while Janet didn’t host the Thanksgiving meal, she is thrilled to be ready to host her family for Christmas, as the home has been completely rebuilt and remodeled (with a new kitchen designed by Shelly). Despite the loss of many family memories and material possessions, the family will be able to come together and celebrate, which according to Janet and Shelly, is obviously the most important thing.

In addition to their Christmas celebration with family, the Lee family is planning an open house this Saturday to thank everyone who helped them along the way. (The Bloomsburg Daily is going to be there to take photos of the unveiling celebration.) Shelly feels that it’s the least they can do. “We wanted to thank everyone. People are curious to see what the home now looks like after seeing it gutted. We had so much help in so many ways…. Just unbelievable! We know we are fortunate and very blessed. We plan to pay it forward and help some others who are still struggling with re-building.”

FEMA Working to Deliver Trailers

Slightly over two months have passed since the historic flooding of Tropical Storm Lee pounded the Bloomsburg area. In the wake of the disaster, the need to find homes for hundreds of displaced people has taken center stage. The number of rental properties and existing homes for sale pales in comparison to the overall need. FEMA has been working in 14 hour shifts to be ready in time for Thanksgiving at Stony Brook Circle near Lightstreet. The long awaited trailers will allow flood victims who qualify to live in them rent-free for up to 18 months. That is very welcomed news as the holidays approach. FEMA is reportedly placing 20 of the trailers. William Todd Heiss set out today to see the progress for himself and shares the images below.

Town Announces Public Meeting on Flood Buyouts

Bloomsburg SignBloomsburg Town Administrator Carol Mas issued a press release this morning announcing that an informational meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers for Town residents interested in participating in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). This meeting follows up on the presentation FEMA made to the Town Council on Monday night.

All residents interested in possibly participating in the HGMP program, or who are curious about its requirements, scope, and limitations, are encouraged to attend.

The complete text of the press release follows:

PUBLIC INFORMATION SESSION
HAZARD MITIGATION GRANT PROGRAM

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 @ 5:30pm

Those residents that have suffered substantial damage to their homes due to Tropical Storm Lee and are interested in being acquired through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program are asked to attend a public information session in Council Chambers on second floor of Town Hall on Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 5:30pm. The requirements of the program will be presented and the paperwork for voluntary participation will be distributed.

Town Hall
301 E. Second Street
Bloomsburg, PA 17815-1870
Phone: (570) 784-7123
Receptionist: (570) 784-7703
Fax: (570) 784-1518

Hours of Operation:
8:00am to 4:30pm, Monday-Friday

FEMA Addresses Bloom Council on Buyouts

Representatives from FEMA addressed the Bloomsburg Town Council last night, reviewing the particulars of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) and stressing that people who wish to apply for Acquisition (commonly referred to as Buyouts) should do so quickly. The deadline for submitting a Letter of Intent/Pre-Application has been extended to Wednesday, 30 November. The Application packet submission deadline has been extended as well, to Friday, 30 December.

The Letter of Intent/Pre-Application form can be downloaded from The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. This is a direct link to PEMA’s downloadable PDF of the Letter of Intent.

In light of the deadline extension, Mayor Dan Knorr suggested that a meeting be held with interested Town residents early next week. No date has been set at the moment, but it will likely be held next Tuesday or Wednesday. The Bloomsburg Daily will update this article as soon as that information on the time and place of the meeting becomes available. Update, 16 November: The meeting will be held on Wednesday 23 November at 5:30PM in the Town Hall’s Council Chambers.

FEMA representative Michael Vath stated that 75% of the funding would come from the Federal government with the remaining funds provided by the State. 15% of the provided funds must be used for hazard mitigation projects. Mr. Vath estimated that at the moment $60-65 million is available through the HMGP, but suggested that due to the extent of the damage this number is likely to increase.

Mr. Vath explained that the HMGP is completely voluntary and no private citizen will be included without their consent and application. Mr. Vath also encouraged people who may be considering elevating or repairing their homes to apply as well since applicants may withdraw their application at any time.

It was also noted that if a property is approved for buyout under HMGP, that particular property must thereafter remain vacant, and is considered Open Space. In addition if the Army Corps of Engineers would use the property for the flood wall, then that property is not eligible for buyout under HGMP.

A Flood of Silence: Dan Bauman

A Flood of Silence Title ScreenDaniel J. Bauman was the Mayor of Bloomsburg from 1982-1988 and 1994-1997, and is currently the vice chair of the Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority. Mr. Bauman lives on West 3rd Street in a home that was not in the flood plain before 1972, yet has been flooded many times since then — with each big flood seemingly more devastating than the last.

His involvement with the flood wall and flooding issues for the town began when he was a foreman with a Bloomsburg construction company. After the devastating Hurricane Agnes flood in 1972, he became the chairperson of a cleanup committee which took charge of the removal of a large island in Fishing Creek. Part of that committee’s goal was to build a dike along Fishing Creek and potentially around the Susquehanna River. Shortly afterward, Bauman ran for Town Council to deal with flooding issues.

The flood wall project has had many ups and downs and has yet to come to fruition, but Mr. Bauman has not given up the fight for nearly forty years. We had the chance to sit down with him and had a wide ranging discussion about all things flood-related in the now gutted basement of his Bloomsburg home. He was kind enough to show us his extensive library of flood photos, Army Corps of Engineers reports, and the other documentation for this 40 year fight.  This video is the first in a series of highlights from our nearly three hour conversation with Mr. Bauman.

In his words, “You can fight a fire, but you can’t fight a flood. No dike is going to stop everything. Every one can be overtopped. But do you want a flood every few years, or every 100 years?”

The View from Here: Fairgrounds on 9/11/11

Immediately following the Flood, The Bloomsburg Fair worked frantically to make decisions about the condition of the grounds. As you can see in these pictures taken not more than a few hours after the water receded, what they found was a total disaster. These photos were taken by Harry Watts Photography and shared with The Bloomsburg Daily by director Bill Barratt. We felt as though it was important to share this perspective and make these photos as widely available as possible. A huge thank you goes out to both Harry Watts Photography for taking them and Bill Barratt for sharing them.

Flood Help and Events

Julie Kuntz Klingerman is the adminstrator of the Helping Neighbors – Bloomsburg Flood 2011 Facebook group.  She will be helping us compile flood-related help and events.

The “Turn the Page” book drive is in full swing at the Columbia Mall near Dunham’s.  Over 30,000 books are available for children of all ages who have lost their libraries.  The books are being handed out for free, and children of all ages may choose up to a dozen books.  The hours are:

 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – Closed
Thursday – 4:00 – 7:00
Friday – 4:00 – 7:00
Saturday – 1:00 – 7:00
Sunday – 1:00 – 5:00

……………………………………

AGAPE still needs volunteers as the continually changing needs of the community evolve.  Specifically, help is needed:

  • at the information desk on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p. m. answering the phone, handing out applications, and filling supplies requests.
  • at the storehouse to lift, load and unload store donations, sort clothing, and help fill supply requests from the information desk
  • at Freedom Hall at the fairgrounds to load and unload furniture on Monday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • for Flood Survivor Recovery Assistance as experienced caseworkers or those willing to be trained
  • for skilled dry-wallers, licensed electricians and licensed plumbers

AGAPE may be contacted at 317-2210 or at agaperelief@gmail.com

……………………………………

The Bloomsburg Area YMCA will be hosting a ZUMBA party November 5th from 4 – 6 p.m. to raise money for AGAPE.  Admission is $10; free for AGAPE volunteers with badge.  Zumba-wear t-shirts are available for $10, with all proceeds benefitting AGAPE as well.

……………………………………

The Catawissa Christian Church, 102 Main Street is offering clothing, some furniture, large and small appliances, toys, pet supplies, and a variety of food and household items to flood victims on Saturday, November 5th from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.  *No FEMA numbers required, no questions asked.*  The church is also accepting donations that may be dropped off outside the door of the church on Monday-Friday from 4:30 – 9:00 p.m.  Needed:  men’s, women’s,  and children’s clothing, especially for winter, canned goods, bedding, towels, dishes, Christmas decorations, pet supplies, books, and small appliances.  To donate furniture, please call ahead: Coleen, 594-2750, Maureen, 441-2749 or Sue, 356-2364.

Julie Kuntz Klingerman for The Bloomsburg Daily

Sen. Toomey Sends Letter to Army Corps about Bloomsburg Flood Wall

According to a press release from U.S. Senator Pat Toomey‘s (R-Pa.) office, the senator sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today urging the Corps to conduct a new cost/benefit analysis for the Bloomsburg flood wall project.  The release states:

A new analysis could improve the chances that this project will receive federal funding.  The town of Bloomsburg has been waiting for the construction of a flood wall since Congress first approved the project in the 1990s. The Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority estimates that damage to Bloomsburg’s two major employers from this year’s flood may cost as much as $100 million. In the letter, Sen. Toomey writes that a new analysis is needed in light of floods in 2004, 2006 and 2011 to evaluate the true benefit cost ratio of building the Bloomsburg flood wall.

In addition, Senator Toomey wrote a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew in June. To read the full text of that letter, please click here.

The full text of Senator Toomey’s letter to the Army Corps of Engineers is available here.   It is also reprinted with permission from Senator Toomey’s office below.

____________________________________

Col. Dave Anderson
Army Corps of Engineers Baltimore District
City Crescent Building
10 S. Howard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201

Dear Col. Anderson,

In light of the unprecedented damage caused by this year’s flooding in Bloomsburg, it is imperative that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) complete a new benefit cost analysis for the proposed floodwall project.

Plenty of new information exists regarding the costs to the town and people of Bloomsburg when Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River flood. The Bloomsburg Area Joint Flood Control Authority estimates that damage to Bloomsburg’s two major employers from this year’s past flood may approach $100 million. Additionally, it is my understanding that data regarding the town’s flooding in 2004 and 2006 were not used to update the USACE benefit cost analysis.

I understand that past analyses suggest that the project fails to meet the minimum ratio of benefits to costs as required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to be included in the administration’s budget request. However, new information from the various floods that have occurred since the last analysis should be used to give the most accurate description of the project’s merits.

Furthermore, it is vitally important that USACE conducts this study as soon as possible. With these considerations in mind, I respectfully submit the following questions:

1. Is it the view of the USACE Baltimore District that the benefit cost analysis for the Bloomsburg floodwall should be updated? If not, can you please outline the benefit and cost assumptions used in the current estimate?

2. If the USACE Baltimore District believes a new analysis is necessary as well, is it possible to complete the study in advance of the Fiscal Year 2013 budgeting process?

Thank you for your consideration. Please keep my office fully apprised of the developments of this project as they move forward.

Sincerely,

Pat Toomey
United States Senator