It's been almost a year since Tropical Storm Irene pounded our region. While the cleanup is moving along, for some, the emotional impact has not.
Kathryn Reiss is used to visitors at the High Falls Gorge. But two men on this day are not there to check out the spectacular water falls.
"I haven't even processed everything we've been through, I have been so busy fixing and just doing I haven't stopped to think what has happened," Reiss said.
They are crisis counselors with Project Hope, a community outreach program funded by FEMA. It is run by the state's mental health office and provides free on-site crisis counseling and assists with referrals to those affected by Tropical Storm Irene in Clinton and Essex Counties.
"It's largely a listening role. We knock on their door, ask how they are doing and if people want to talk, we are there to listen," said Fred Balzac, a Project Hope Crisis Counselor. "We're finding if people talk about what happened it has a therapeutic effect."
Last spring's flooding caused severe damage to the High Falls Gorge when the Ausable River rose 25 feet higher than average. "We lost a lot of fencing. We lost a lot of trails," Reiss said.
Repairs from the flooding were only 75-percent complete when Tropical Storm Irene came through and pounded the High Falls Gorge even harder. "It damaged us in different places then the April floods had, so we had a great deal of overlapping problems we had to deal with," Reiss said.
Altogether last year, Reiss' business suffered half-a-million dollars in damage. Loans to rebuild wiped out all of her equity in the business. She says Project Hope has played a huge role in helping her rebuild. "Knowing emotionally someone cares," she added.
Project Hope leaders say as the one year anniversary of the storm approaches, this is when their role in the community becomes even more important. A lot of people are dealing with post traumatic stress. "There are people who are still dealing with this. If it rains hard, they may wake up and have trouble going back to sleep, so there effects people keep dealing with," Balzac said.
Crisis counselors say the emotional impact is far from over, as home buyouts from FEMA will likely change the makeup of several communities, but they do say those impacted are beginning to look up. "My sense, people are optimistic about the future. The concern is when will we see a flood like this again," Balzac said.
"Hopefully Mother Nature is nice, since we had a 100 year flood followed by a 500 year flood. Hopefully we are good for 600 years and we'll be good for a little while and rebuild this place," Reiss said.
An organization providing hope to a region still trying to pickup from Tropical Storm Irene.
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