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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 24, 2011

Rising above the muddy waters

By Saranac Hale Spencer

SCHOHARIE — Two people died in Marie Vedder’s house during the 1996 flood, she said while taking a break from repairing damage to the house after Tropical Storm Irene flooded it again in August.

For 15 years, she said, she rented the Sunset Drive house and six months ago, she bought it.

Over 10 feet of water poured into the first floor as Irene swept through, she said.  Now she has a mortgage and nowhere else to go, so she works at her job during the day and fixes the house at night and on the weekends.

The 1996 flood was supposed to be a 100-year flood and this year’s was called a 500-year flood, Vedder said, smiling as she added, “I don’t know who does the math.”  She was eating lunch with her family and a neighbor, Thomas Byrnes, at the Loaves and Fishes Café in the Schoharie Reformed Church’s Heritage House.

Byrnes is waiting for the third flood before he’ll move, he said.

The neighbors, with remarkably high spirits, were both grateful for the hard work of plentiful volunteers.

Among the thousands who have given their time to help those who are rebuilding are Chris and Betsy DeGraaf, with their 8-year-old daughter, Olivia.  They traveled from Holland, Mich., where Chris DeGraaf is a pastor, to spend a week rebuilding in Schoharie.  They have shoveled out mud and helped build a ramp at a Prattsville parsonage.

“It’s a way to reach out to people who’ve been affected,” Betsy DeGraaf said, adding that people don’t realize how devastated the area is.  Many people have chosen to simply move on, she said, rather than rebuilding.

Of what they have seen from the people who have chosen to stay, Chris DeGraaf said, “People are hopeful for what can be.”

Vedder is staying with her children at her mother’s house and Byrnes has recently been given a trailer from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  “It’s not home, but it’s very, very good,” he said.

Her priorities have shifted since the flood, Vedder said.  “I’ve become a minimalist,” she said.  Her family will be spending Christmas at her mother’s house, as they usually do, but they probably won’t be getting their traditional live tree to celebrate.

Right now, she’s hanging Sheetrock in her house, which was first built in 1989 and, Vedder said, the next place she buys will be on a hill.

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