By Nathan Mayberg
WESTBROOKVILLE September 3, 2004 A state of emergency still exists in Westbrookville after flooding caused massive devastation Monday evening.
According to Westbrookville Fire Company Chief Ralph Tunno, Town of Mamakating Supervisor Charles Penna and others, the flooding was caused by runoff from the overflowing Pine Kill after a severe rainstorm.
The flooding was estimated to have crested at four feet, prompting the county and town to issue a state of emergency warning Tuesday.
According to Richard Martinkovic, Civil Defense Coordinator for the countys Civil Defense & Natural Disaster Preparedness, five to six homes were destroyed. Up to 15 homes were seriously damaged to the point where they may not be fit for occupancy. Several of the homes had trees lying on them.
Penna said that approximately 150 homes were affected by the floods.
Martinkovic estimated the total damage to roads and property to be $11 million.
Several roads were hit so hard, large portions of concrete fell off. Some of them were described as wiped out. The hardest-hit included Pine Kill Road, Brant Road and Skinners Road. Several bridges were also lost. A number of cars were destroyed or lost.
Dozens of people slept overnight at the Town Hall in Wurtsboro. Penna said the town was providing vouchers for the Days Inn for those who had nowhere else to go.
Martinkovic said the county and town are collecting evidence of the destruction so that New York State Governor George Pataki may declare the area a disaster to enable federal emergency aid for infrastructure. Martinkovic said that if homeowners qualify, they may also receive aid for the damage incurred.
On Wednesday, dozens of large logs were still scattered everywhere. Several were inside peoples homes. Tunno blamed the loose timber on illegal logging in the area.
To the astonishment of many, nobody was seriously injured. However, several of the most seriously affected were without flood insurance.
Mark Lohr is one of them. He was not sure if he is going to receive aid. A resident of Westbrookville for 35 years, he said, I dont know if you ever recover from something like this. . . . I think Im in shock.
A tree had smashed through one of his windows. One day after the initial flooding, the first floor of his home was still filled with water.
He estimated the damage to his home and property to be nearly half a million dollars. He said he most recently spent $30,000 to build a large, decorated front porch and roof which are now seriously damaged. He believed his $30,000 Corvette is also done for.
Ironically, the front of his house features a sign saying, Welcome Home, Journeys End.
This is where I thought I was going to finish my life, he said.
Lohr has had homeowners insurance for 35 years, but his insurance company wont reimburse him due to his lack of specific flood coverage. Lohr, whose son is in Iraq, said a possible low-interest loan from the federal government is not sufficient.
I dont need a loan, I need a home. . . . I need help.
His neighbors believe Lohr saved their lives. Erin Phelan was returning home at the time of the flood. His wife and two young daughters were inside. Lohr used his truck to pick up the family, but his truck nearly washed away twice. Luckily, he was able to find firm ground, and they fled to a nearby hunting cabin.
In one minute, said Lohr, the water went from one foot high to four feet high. Phelan credited Lohr with saving his familys life: If not for Mark, they never would have made it.
Phelans garage collapsed entirely. He described his porch and basement as being all gone. Three of his cars were lost.
Larry Almeida said his front yard dropped seven to eight feet. His entire front and backyard were completely flooded. His pool was destroyed, although the house was spared.
He was also not happy with his insurance company, recalling that his agent advised him against flood coverage.
One day after the flooding, dozens of properties were still filled with water more than a foot deep in some areas. Luckier properties were filled with mud instead. A number of basements were flooded.
Front yards once beautified with green grass now resembled large ponds. The Pine Kill was still running rapidly.
Over a dozen fire companies from Sullivan County and Orange County responded, including dive boats. Tunno estimated that more than 100 firefighters responded in all. State Police, the state Department of Transportation, the Sullivan County Sheriffs Department, the Sullivan County Department of Public Works, and the American Red Cross were among those who responded. Many worked all night long.
Andy Mikulski, a volunteer for the Westbrookville Fire Company and a past chief, responded to the flood immediately.
You cannot believe the force of what happens, he said. This was the fastest and most furious thing Ive ever seen. . . . It is a miracle nobody got killed or hurt.