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State should find a way to assist West Seneca residents hit by flooding

The state should step in to help the residents of West Seneca who are dealing with the devastation from flooding earlier this month.

An estimated 70 homes and more than two dozen vehicles suffered damage when an ice jam following a warm-up Jan. 11 sent Buffalo Creek over its banks in the Lexington Green neighborhood off Mineral Road. Town officials estimated damage just to the mechanical systems of the homes at $700,000.

Help for those West Seneca homeowners is not just desperately needed, it is justifiable. Precedent was set last year when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo provided state aid to victims of severe flooding in Lockport and the Mohawk Valley. Cuomo took that action even though the flooding fell short of the benchmarks necessary to qualify for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Just as he issued an executive order declaring a disaster and asked for assistance from FEMA last year, he should do the same for West Seneca. FEMA ended up approving aid for public infrastructure, but denied individual assistance. In response, the governor established the Mohawk Valley and 2013 Upstate Flood Recovery Program and used state funds that had been appropriated for emergency purposes months earlier.

West Seneca residents affected by this disaster should get the same attention. The ice jam flooded the neighborhood in a matter of minutes. Residents had to be evacuated, some in the buckets of town high-lifts. Several feet of water gushed into basements, sometimes reaching first floors. “It was coming in like Niagara Falls,” one resident said.

The water rose so high and the damage was so severe that 150 firefighters from 18 departments spent the entire day after the flood pumping water out of basements. Virtually everything in basements – furnaces, appliances, cherished memorabilia, furniture – was destroyed. In some cases, foundations were ruined. One homeowner was taken to view the devastation in a rowboat.

Many homeowners did not have flood insurance, which is typically mandated by banks only for those who have mortgages or home-equity loans and live in flood zones. It isn’t cheap. One resident was quoted a price of well over $2,000. He had the awful luck of having dropped his flood insurance after 31 years because it got so expensive. Even with flood insurance, the deductible could reach $5,000, no small price to pay.

Elected officials have vowed to go to the governor to ask for assistance. They should get it; these homeowners deserve all the help they can get.