Robert L. Heichberger: A deluge of rain brings a flood of help - The Buffalo News
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Robert L. Heichberger: A deluge of rain brings a flood of help

A community that plans together, jointly works together and joyously celebrates together, will, when times are hard, untiringly stand together. Such is the case of a small vibrant community in Western New York.

On May 13, we awakened in Gowanda to heavy rain clouds in the western sky. The U.S. Weather Bureau had posted a flood warning for the region.

The people in this area are resourceful, resilient and thoughtful. They have a love for their natural surroundings and a passion for their neighbors and the folks who visit this picturesque region. Little did we know how our lives would be impacted by the next several hours of turbulent weather. But we will not forget.

With the first glimmer of light in the horizon, one could observe the “boiling-like” clouds in the sky. All around, the landscape was silent and still. Then, nearing 6 a.m., that stillness was uncapped by the rustling of winds and the silence was broken by the rumble of distant thunder. Storms were brewing and heading into northwestern Cattaraugus, southern Erie and northern Chautauqua counties. Rains of gigantic proportions were moving in. The automated community alert system was immediately engaged, warning citizens that a flood was imminent.

A deluge of runoff rainwater from the surrounding hillsides flooded portions of the community with torrents of water, mud, sludge and debris. Trees were downed and several individuals narrowly escaped serious injury. People quickly became aware of the unbelievable degree of devastation that was left in the wake of the raging waters and deluge of debris. I, along with my wife and neighbors, still feel the pangs of stress as I put these words in print.

The peril of damaging loss for some victims was substantial. A number of homes and buildings were flooded. A number of roads and sidewalks were impassable. In the flooded area, mud, silt and debris seemed to be everywhere.

For many of the victims, the immediate days that followed the storm seemed to be dark and never-ending. But many knew firsthand what it was to be the recipient of help from giving people. Community officials, volunteers, local businesses and organizations, as well as organizations from neighboring communities, pitched in and provided Good Samaritan assistance. They provided cleanup equipment and supplies, encouraging words for the tired, an ambitious arm and shoulder for the exhausted and emotional support for the needy.

Some of our neighbors experienced a loss that can never be fully recouped. But, on the brighter side, there was a wonderful burst of realization of our richness which, in some ways, even exceeds the losses. We saw a zest of genuineness, a treasury of neighborliness and a spirit of helpfulness. This genuine warmth is what makes our country so exceptional, and we will not forget!

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