Six days after heavy rains fell on the Southern Tier, causing record amounts of flooding and property damage in the region, Binghamton University’s Events Center remains open as a shelter to residents whose homes were affected by the floods.
David Hubey, emergency manager for BU’s New York State University Police and acting incident commander at the Events Center, said there were still 330 people housed in the “general population” section of the Events Center overseen by the American Red Cross and 70 people housed in the “special needs” section overseen by the Broome County Department of Health as of 12:00 a.m.
The number of evacuees inside the Events Center peaked on Thursday, when as many 1,700 were sheltered there, according to University tallies. About 100 additional people who required special medical care were sheltered in the West Gym as well.
The Events Center’s population fluctuated over the weekend. It fell to 542 on Saturday as some were told they could return to their homes or they found other places to stay, according to Craig Cooper, public affairs supervisor for the Red Cross.
BU spokeswoman Gail Glover wrote in an email that about 120 evacuees who had been living in the Red Cross’s shelter at Johnson City High School were transferred to the Events Center on Sunday, and the Red Cross and the University closed down the special needs shelter in the West Gym the same day, moving patients back into the Events Center. Numbers decreased again on Monday as more evacuees departed for other housing.
A delegation of local officials and members of the New York State Legislature and U.S. Congress visited the Events Center Saturday afternoon, touring the facility and speaking with Red Cross and University representatives as well as evacuees sheltered there. They included Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, Broome County Executive Patrick Brennan, New York State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“We’re here today to speak with the refugees to gain clarity about what they are going through and to raise awareness to get them the help that they need,” Hinchey said outside the Events Center at 5 p.m. Saturday. “FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] needs to devote money and resources to this area to assist people who are in trouble.”
The delegation of officials caused a small commotion of activity on the floor of the Events Center when they entered en masse with staff, Red Cross and University liaisons and trailing reporters, but most evacuees did not seem to take note of the group, and remained sitting on cots, chairs or benches or line at food or supply stations.
Gillibrand led the charge, circling the floor of the Events Center, speaking with evacuees including a number of young children.
Ryan said that the city of Binghamton was gathering more information about which areas had been affected by flooding.
“Certain neighborhoods were untouched, but the Southside, First Ward, East Ward were all hit bad,” Ryan said. “We’re told the state and federal aid will start rolling in.”
Lupardo said that area officials were waiting for FEMA to issue approve direct aid to flood victims to help them rebuild and recover.
“FEMA will provide assistance to individuals and to families, but the Red Cross will continue running the shelters as they are needed,” Lupardo said. “The first goal is to get people into immediate housing. A concern here is that a lot of folks here were renters, and their housing status may be difficult to determine now.”
Brennan echoed Lupardo’s concerns about housing shortages.
“Many motels in the area are filled,” Brennan said. “We’re starting to move into the second phase of the response now, which is re-evaluation and re-entry. The level of impact varies widely in the county. Some buildings need to be inspected to make sure they’re electrically safe, others have been completely destroyed.”