Reflections on Responding to Irene in Upstate New York

December 02, 2011 - 10:36 AM EST

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Reflections on Responding to Irene in Upstate New York

This story originally published in Good News! magazine.

Lieutenant Francisco Rivera has seen hurricane damage in his home of Puerto Rico, but nothing prepared him for Hurricane Irene in Prattsville, N.Y.

"Never have I seen devastation like this," said Rivera, a corps officer in Geneva, N.Y. "You can feel the people struggling, the desperation. It's something that hits you very hard inside."

For several days after the storm, Prattsville was accessible only on foot, as all roads and bridges in the area were closed. Many homes were destroyed, and furniture and other belongings littered front lawns.

"This is by far the most overwhelming disaster I think these folks have ever experienced," said Envoy James Brennan of the Salvation Army's Liberty Pole Way Corps in Rochester.

The Salvation Army served hundreds of meals each day from a mobile canteen, and Rivera, Brennan, and Captain David Hernandez of the Rochester Temple Corps were available for spiritual counseling.

Not far away, The Salvation Army was also on the scene at a FEMA command center at the Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Highmount, N.Y.

Lt. Colonels Eugene and Edith Pigford helped volunteers deliver cleaning supplies, health kits, and gift cards to the FEMA site. They also delivered supplies to canteens in area towns such as Phoenicia, Margaretville, and Arkville, all hard–hit by the hurricane.

"We're also here just for people to come and talk to us," Colonel Edith Pigford said. "We're here to provide emotional and spiritual counsel for them."

Peg Tillapaugh of Oneonta talked about why she was volunteering for The Salvation Army for the first time at the FEMA site.

"The need is so great," she said. "I just like people and these people are in need. God loves His people and so do I."

Another volunteer, Howard Scott of the Binghamton Corps, had similar sentiments.

"A person who is eating might have gotten that meal from us," he said. "That might be the only reason why they received a hot meal."

Areas throughout the Northeast, including New Jersey, New York, and Vermont, are still dealing with the devastation caused by the hurricane's wrath.

"While we are grateful that some of the more dire predictions about Hurricane Irene did not materialize, I don't want to downplay the continued and serious need we're seeing," said Major George Hood, national community relations secretary. "A lot of these communities will take months or even years to recover—and we're committed to being there with them throughout."

Traveling into the hard–hit village of Margaretville, N.Y., from the incident command center in Oneonta, Mary Jo Barnello said a cheer went up from a crowd when a Salvation Army box truck loaded with supplies arrived. More than 15 firefighters leapt into action to unload water, cleaning kits, baby supplies, pet food, and canned food.

The firefighters worked side by side with Army volunteers to distribute the goods.

"We really appreciate The Salvation Army being here helping our community. We need it, and you guys are a great support," said Mike Porter, president of the Margaretville Fire Department.