The floodwaters receded one year ago, but the devastation left behind by the water is still evident in many places. Vestal is one of those communities, particularly the neighborhood of Twin Orchards, which experienced some of the worst damage. Our Melissa Kakareka spoke with residents in Twin Orchards to find out how far recovery efforts have come in the past year.
VESTAL, N.Y. -- Residents in the neighborhood of Twin Orchards in Vestal were faced with a tough decision after Tropical Storm Lee hit the Southern Tier last year: rebuild their homes, or walk away.
Denise Getchell's home on First Avenue took about one foot of water in the basement, wiping out her furnace, appliances, and everything else that was stored there. She was able to clean and sanitize her basement, and get back into her home within a few weeks, but still needs to finish renovations.
"When everything got cleaned up and dried out, the floor started peeling in places so it looks like swiss cheese," explained Getchell. "I don't know, I think I was pretty depressed and tired. I was worn out from it all, and then I figured this will get done. I wanted to help others."
Over on Valley Road, Barbera Staudt, 92, experienced even worse damage to her home, including a foundation that caved in. Staudt had no flood insurance and was ready to leave the neighborhood for good. It was only with the help of her neighbors that she was able to rebuild. She moved back into her home in January.
"I didn't have the money to come back. I was ready to go in an apartment, but the neighbors all got together and volunteered, and got donations, and brought me back to the neighborhood," said Staudt.
There are still many people in Twin Orchards who have not been able to rebuild and get back in their homes. Maureen Schwarz and her family lost the foundation to their First Avenue home, as well as all of their belongings in the basement and on the first floor. They decided it was not financially feasible to rebuild, and have since relocated to Cortland.
"I miss my life there, you get into a routine," Schwarz said. "I miss the house and neighbors, and working there, but we're adjusting. It's taking a long time, longer than I thought."
Schwarz is one of more than 40 property owners that have applied for a buyout in Twin Orchards. A total of 61 people have applied for buyouts in the entire town of Vestal. But, Schwarz has yet to hear anything about her buyout application.
"Financially, it's hard to keep up that mortgage and keep up expenses here too, so the sooner we hear, the better," noted Schwarz.
Officials said the town's buyout paperwork has been submitted and deemed eligible, but they are waiting to hear back from FEMA and the state Emergency Management Office. This has become a source of frustration for Schwarz and many others in the neighborhood.
Schwarz added, "We don't hear anything from anybody, except neighbors. And that might be word of mouth or rumors, we just have no idea what's going on."
One year later, many people and houses in the Twin Orchards neighborhood remain abandoned or in limbo. Whether residents have rebuilt, relocated, or are still unsure about either option, everyone seems to agree that the neighborhood will never be the same.