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Community is united in times of trouble

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

Aug. 9, 2009, was a clear, bright Sunday in Gowanda. The warm rays of the sun shone brightly that afternoon on the hills and in the valleys and nearby communities surrounding this beautiful and bountiful location.

The people here are resourceful, resilient and thoughtful folks. They have a love for the natural surroundings and a passion for their neighbors, and for the folks who visit and travel through this picturesque area. Little did the people know how their lives would be impacted by the next 12 hours of turbulence in the weather. But the people remember and they will not forget.

At dusk, the sun went down behind a dark almost boiling cloud in the western sky. All around, the landscape was silent, still and almost unnerving. And then, nearing 10 p.m., the stillness was uncapped with the quick rustling of the winds and the silence was broken by the far-off rumble of distant roaring thunder. Unknown to most of the folks at the time, two gigantic storms over northwestern Cattaraugus, southern Erie and northern Chautauqua counties formed a gigantic monster of a storm.

There was little time for storm preparation and not much could be done to deter the catastrophic onslaught of destruction. The storm hit suddenly and was unabated for three continuous hours. A deluge of rain flooded the community with torrents of raging water. Sadly, during the storm, two precious lives were lost in the flood. In the days that followed, the community was in shock and mourned together.

On Monday morning, at first light, the realization of the vast destruction set in for a traumatized and stunned community. People quickly became aware of the unbelievable degree of ravaged devastation that was left in the wake of the nearly seven inches of rain that fell in a three-hour span.

The peril of material loss for some victims was horrendous. A substantial number of area structures were badly damaged -- homes were flooded, churches and public buildings were seriously damaged, merchandise and equipment in stores and businesses was destroyed, and Tri-County Hospital and the attached medical building were permanently devastated.

For many of the victims, the days that followed seemed to be one long, dark and never-ending day -- with no sunrise and no sunset. Many of us experienced firsthand the outpouring of help from giving people. They brought food for the hungry, encouragement for the tired, an ambitious arm and shoulder for the exhausted and emotional support for the needy.

The peril of the loss for some victims was very great. 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 richness which, in some ways, even exceeds the peril of the losses. We saw a zest of genuineness and a treasury of neighborliness, a spirit of cooperativeness and helpfulness, and genuine warmth of the true nature of that which makes our country so very exceptional. For you see, neighbors who work together, celebrate together and mourn together will untiringly stand together -- and we will not forget!

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Robert L. Heichberger, of Gowanda, is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State College and a distinguished professor at Capella University.

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