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MORE FLOODING: Lee’s downpours heighten crisis left by Irene

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP) — Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee are dealing a setback to residents in Pennsylvania, upstate New York and New Jersey still suffering from Hurricane Irene, with organizations such as Southern Baptist Disaster Relief scrambling to meet the escalating needs in the region.

Historic, or near-historic, flooding from the Susquehanna River is increasing the need for disaster relief in northeast Pennsylvania and central New York state where forced evacuations are underway.

“The rains have not stopped now and the rivers are still rising,” Karlene Campbell, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, said Sept. 8. “Right now, we’re just in the middle of the flood. It’s really affecting a lot of communities along the way.

“It’s hard to get a grasp on things at the moment, with the flooding that’s taking place.”

The Susquehanna, expected to crest as high as 41 feet, has prompted the evacuation of some 100,000 residents in the Wyoming Valley, Pa., area, and the evacuation of more than 10,000 in and around Binghamton, N.Y., where both the Susquehanna and the Chenango rivers are flooding.

The Baptist Convention of New York is mounting efforts to meet the Red Cross’ new request for an additional 16,000 meals a day from the feeding unit stationed at Trinity Baptist Church in the Schenectady, N.Y., area, said Terry Robertson, BCNY executive director. The unit from the Kentucky Baptist Convention had been preparing 5,000-6,000 meals a day since Sunday.

The unit is preparing 16,000 meals for delivery Friday morning to Binghamton, said Karen Smith, KBC disaster relief director.

Robertson, meanwhile, is helping meet the need for additional relief workers by canceling this week’s scheduled meeting of the convention’s executive board and asking its members to instead report to the feeding unit if they can maneuver the flooded landscape to get there.

Meanwhile in New Jersey, where 43,000 homes already were damaged by Irene, another 2-6 inches of rain is forecast from Lee. The BCNY’s call for at least six mud-out units still was waiting to be filled Thursday, witgh disaster relief units hard-pressed to meet the growing need across the Northeast, BCNY leaders say.

“We are quite concerned that so many states are having so many disaster needs at this time. We’re not optimistic that we’re going to get those [mud-out] units,” Robertson said. “I think at this point it’s pretty clear we’ve got our hands full.”

Floodwaters that had not fully receded from Irene now are rising again from Lee, Robertson emphasized.

“We’re going to be in need of those mud-out units,” he said. “Right now, we’re faced with the crisis of having enough manpower to provide the meals that are being asked for.”

The Red Cross Thursday also increased its earlier request of 2,000 meals a day from the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief feeding unit in Washingtonville, N.Y., where the need had not been as great before Lee.

James Hundley, BCNY president and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Cortland, N.Y., spoke to Baptist Press from Upstate Medical Center in nearby Syracuse, where two Emmanuel members were recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning. The couple, in their mid-60s, inhaled carbon monoxide from a poorly ventilated water pump they were using to get water out of their flooded basement in Marathon, N.Y.

“There was just a steady downpour of water, so there wasn’t the ventilation there would have been,” Hundley said. “There’s just so much rain. The aftermath of the water is just devastating.”
Diana Chandler is a freelance writer in New Orleans.