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Resident: Irene Could Happen Again

Old York Road resident Fran Kelco is waiting on flood-proofing for her home.

After getting flooded both during Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Irene one year ago, Old York Road resident Fran Kelco just wants to stop it from happening again.

“My basement got flooded both times, but luckily it never reached the first floor,” she said. “I lost the furnace both times, the water heater, utilities you lose.”

“You get nervous as you watch how far the water is coming up, and wonder how do I stop it,” she added.

Now, Kelco said, she is trying to get her house flood-proofed, and is disappointed by how long it is taking.

In December, Kelco said, the township sent out letters with options for residents including having their homes flood-proofed, raised or bought out.

“I did some research, and I don’t want to sell,” she said. “I’m third generation to own this house, and there is a lot sentiment.”

Kelco said she was initially interested in raising the house, but didn’t know much about it, and she turned to flood-proofing instead.

“They would build a building in the backyard and move the utilities there,” she said.

But now, Kelco said, she is unsure because she has not heard back on the topic.

“I responded to a letter saying it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “Three months later, no one knew who was handling it. No one in the township has come to talk to me, which has me upset.”

Kelco said her questions about the progress have gone unanswered.

Township administrator James Naples said they are actually waiting to hear back from FEMA on the situation.

“We have been working with all the property owners on Old York Road,” he said. “I understand she’s frustrated, but I don’t agree that we have not been working with her.”

In actuality, Naples said, doing this kind of flood-proofing requires approval from FEMA, which the township has not yet received.

On that road, Naples said, two houses have already been approved for buyouts through , while another two are looking into the opportunities for buyouts.

The township recently approved the buyouts at 203 Old York Road and 205 Old York Road.

Kelco said she is not sure why the family at 203 Old York Road is going for the buyout after having recently renovated and actually moving out just after the hurricane.

“They put so much money into it, raising it, putting in an addition and new windows,” she said. “How could they waste money like that?”

“Now they are going to knock that house down, I’m hoping they are going to move it instead,” she added of the house that backs onto . “I understand why they wanted to move, but I don’t understand why you would pool money into a house just to have the township knock it down.”

Still, Kelco said, she is afraid of doing any reorganizing of her own because of the chance that there could always be another storm, and she doesn’t know when the approval for flood-proofing will come through.

What she can use, she said, are storage containers that float, and do not allow water to get in them.

“I am trying to move forward, but with the flood-proofing thing, I’m at a standstill,” she said.

Kelco said she remembers that during Irene, she was watching the water rise near her house. She said she gauged the height of the water by the dog house in her backyard.

“I was glad it didn’t come up to the first floor, and I think I’m the only one on my block who didn’t get that,” she said. “Who would have thought the land was up that high?”

But after the waters had receded, Kelco said, she began the cleanup in the basement, and she had a neighbor who helped her clean out what had been destroyed. In addition, she said, Christian Ministeries assisted her about two week later.

“We threw out more than 100 bags of garbage from the basement, and they had everything out in an hour,” she said. “I am still organizing down there.”

Although she didn’t have to evacuate, Kelco said she lost power for about a week.

Plus, Kelco said, it took PSE&G almost a week after coming out numerous times to look at the transformer that had blown.

“I saw the transformer blow, and the power company said they had to send someone out to fix it,” she said.

FEMA, Kelco said, was out within two weeks getting the lay of the land, and the insurance company had to take a bit longer.

“They had more people to go to,” she said. “They were there within a month, they were hitting the worst parts first.”

Despite the negatives, the one positive out of the whole experience, Kelco said, was the community spirit. She said she met so many new neighbors during the cleanup.

“People walked out because Old York Road was flooded down by the park,” she said. “They saw you were flooded, asked how bad, asked if you needed anything. Everyone wanted to hear your story, and you met new people in the neighborhood.”

“It brought the community together,” she added. “Some still say hello when we walk by.”

And now, with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Irene, Kelco said they just have to move forward and hope for the best, knowing that you cannot control the weather.

“There is no way we can stop it if it’s going to happen,” she said with a sigh. “Once they say a flood watch is canceled, we let out a deep sigh. When they say Old York Road is closed, we check where. We hope for the best, figure if it does flood, we have to have an alternate plan.”

“You have to keep a sense of humor and have to find the positive,” she added. “I always wanted to clean out the basement, so I did.”

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