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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"A reminder: We know how to carry on"
ALBANY, Aug. 6 -- Many of the headlines since the late afternoon of July 26th, when a severe storm and tornado touched down and wreaked havoc in Lindley, South Corning and Elmira, have said it best: “Neighbors helping neighbors on Elmira’s Eastside.” “The power of community.” “Region sets out on long road to recovery.”
Helping. Community. Recovery. These are just a few of the key words to keep in mind when a disaster like this takes place.
Of course we’re no strangers to natural disasters in this region. Indeed, we were powerfully reminded of this fact recently on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Hurricane Agnes in June 1972. Now we’re reminded that one constant between then and now has been this one: we pull together in these times of dire need.
So first and foremost I’ll take this opportunity, on behalf of all of this region’s residents, to say “thank you” again to all those who have responded in so many different and important ways. We simply never know when a disaster may strike, so we have been reassured and our faith reaffirmed by countless examples of caring and commitment over the past few weeks in the aftermath of this latest disaster.
There are a thousand stories of decency, generosity and fortitude that will go unreported -- a thousand, quiet good deeds that go untold but which collectively stand as a powerful force of recovery. I’m unable to single out each and every one here, of course, but I’m hopeful that highlighting a few will speak for all of the acts of heroism.
First, we must raise a heartfelt salute to all of the local police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders for their immediate, courageous and capable first response and dedication to a successful recovery plan. We’re reminded that our communities are truly fortunate to have these men and women constantly on guard and standing ready to protect our lives and property, safety and security. Their spirit may have been captured best by Ithaca Fire Department Lieutenant Tom Basher, who said of Ithaca firefighters coming so swiftly to the aid of their brethren in Elmira on July 26th, “Those guys needed our help, and we had the ability to do it. If the same thing happened here, those guys would be coming here to do the same.”
In fact, emergency responders from across the region mobilized. Mutual aid from 42 area fire departments arrived in an unbelievable demonstration of shared concern and cooperation, and service and support that, to give just one example, provided a door-to-door canvassing of the impacted neighborhoods to ensure immediate aid for anyone injured – and, amazingly, there was not one fatality or serious injury.
What comes to mind most quickly in assessing a disaster like this one is, again, the overwhelming response from so many segments of the local and statewide response community.
NYSEG, state Department of Transportation (DOT) and other surrounding county and town work crews immediately set to work removing trees and other debris, repairing roads and power lines. By the end of the first day all county roads had been reopened. By the end of the weekend NYSEG and mutual aid crews from utilities across the Northeast had restored power to 95% of the customers who had lost it. There were 98,000 NYSEG customers statewide who lost power in the storm. Thirty-six percent or 24,495 of these customers were located in the Elmira division – where there were 436 wires (totaling 21 miles) down. Ninety-one broken poles and 21 transformers were replaced. Power to the remaining 5% of customers was restored by early Tuesday morning, just four days after the storm struck. And NYSEG distributed more than 82,000 pounds of dry ice and 3,000 cases of bottled water in Elmira.
Of course, our local emergency response leaders proved more than up to this enormous task. Chemung County Fire and Emergency Services Director Mike Smith and Steuben County Office of Emergency Services Director Mike Sprague – and their capable staffs – earn an A+ for coordinating such an effective response, setting up a command post and staging area, reopening county roads, responding to 9-1-1 calls, inspecting damaged homes, and otherwise getting our communities on the road to recovery.
At the state level, of course, the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last summer, have put in place a finely tuned and skilled team of emergency responders and an emergency response activation strategy and protocol that’s second to none, I believe, in the nation. State emergency management leaders were immediately in contact and have remained on the scene locally to provide constant communication, direction and support.
Following last summer’s disasters across upstate New York, Governor Cuomo said, “All levels of government are working together to help New York recover and we will not stop until the job is done." That’s certainly remained the case here.
Equally impressive has been the response from local volunteers working through the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other local businesses and community groups who fanned out to open shelters, provide thousands of meals, and offer comfort in so many, many ways. These volunteers make the difference.
Clearly the recovery and rebuilding effort will demand the attention of federal, state and local leaders for months to come. Government plays a vital role in these responses. The damage assessments will be ongoing. The hard work of putting communities and neighborhoods back together will be intensive. Already, Watkins Glen International and NASCAR have pledged a donation of trees from Stillman’s Greenhouse in Montour Falls that will be planted throughout the city of Elmira to help replace the many lost.
The timing of this reminder of the willingness of the people of the Southern Tier and all New Yorkers to pull together has been poignant – arriving as it has shortly after the 40th anniversary of the devastation wrought across our region by Hurricane Agnes. So many of us can remember that event like it happened yesterday.
This same resolve is being demonstrated again, at this very moment, in the ongoing storm and tornado recovery. We’re grateful to the volunteers, the local businesses and workers, and the government officials who will carry out that mission.
The bottom line is that we will carry on. That’s the message being delivered time and time again since this latest natural disaster touched down.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869