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7/20/2017 9:00:00 AM
Hard-hit Hoosick Falls works on flood recovery
LEFT, WEEDS AND MUD hanging from the ceiling show how the water filled the sub-basement at Immaculate Conception Church in Hoosick Falls and went through the floor above Rev. Thomas Zelker's head. Right, water damage to a column.
LEFT, WEEDS AND MUD hanging from the ceiling show how the water filled the sub-basement at Immaculate Conception Church in Hoosick Falls and went through the floor above Rev. Thomas Zelker's head. Right, water damage to a column.
FATHER ZELKER STANDS in water at Immaculate Conception parish, Hoosick Falls.
FATHER ZELKER STANDS in water at Immaculate Conception parish, Hoosick Falls.
Herkimer County also suffered significant flooding the same weekend after heavy rainfall made Bellinger Brook overflow. At St Francis de Sales parish in Herkimer, the church was undamaged, but the rectory basement flooded for the third or fourth time in the past few years, requiring the purchase of another new furnace.

At Ss. Anthony and Joseph parish in Herkimer, Deacon Ron Ste-Marie told The Evangelist that "some of our parishioners had a lot of mud and tree branches that went down the creeks and into their backyards. Four years ago, when we had [flooding], a lot of the people were displaced. But [since then,] they've worked on the storm drains, which helped their basements not fill up."

On July 2, the deacon said, Masses at St. John the Baptist parish in Newport had to be cancelled because of flooded roads.

Parishioners are handling the crisis and helping each other, he said: "They're always good at that." (AL)


Immaculate Conception parish in Hoosick Falls continues to cope with the devastating effects of July 1 flooding that left the village under a state of emergency.

"They say, 'Cry me a river,' so I did that. I was crying a river during the storm," said Rev. Thomas Zelker, pastor of Immaculate Conception. "It was so scary. I didn't know what was going to happen to our building and our village."

When rain came pouring down and nearby Woods Brook overflowed its banks, the church building suffered significant structural damage as its sub-basement filled with nine feet of water, mud and silt. The church hall basement took on a foot of water, along with mud and silt.

"We had volunteers pump [out] the water and help get some of the silt off of the floor," said Father Zelker.

Diocesan officials and architects have since been assessing the damage, including Paul Ehmann of the Office of Real Property and representatives of the Architecture and Building Commission.

"They're on top of this, with the insurance. They're drying it out and they're going to see what has to happen. We just have to wait," said Father Zelker.

This is not the only water problem the parish has encountered lately, he noted. In 2015, the water system in Hoosick Falls and surrounding areas was found to be contaminated with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), a toxic man-made chemical, requiring long-term cleanup efforts. Immaculate Conception Church has also had leaks in its roof.

This time, roads in Hoosick Falls were washed away and sinkholes formed.

"The flash flood came through the heart of our village. There were a number of homes and businesses damaged and destroyed. Streets flooded out," Father Zelker said. "It caught everyone by surprise and just ravaged the heart of the village here. Neighbors and families are supporting each other, but there's a lot of places you can't go in if you're not a professional."

Despite facing all of these issues, the pastor said the members of his parish community are resilient and have faith. "Our church is more than a building. It's a beautiful building, but our faith in God is stronger than any one building, or any one day," he said of the parish damage.

Immaculate Conception has been celebrating daily Masses across the street at St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Sunday Masses at the parish school, St. Mary's Academy.

"Our school was used as a Red Cross evacuation site, and now we gather up there for Eucharist," Father Zelker told The Evangelist. "So, it's been very faith-filled up there. The Mass has been very good; it's a little closer together in that setting."

Last week, Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger joined the parish for a Sunday Mass and saw the flood damage himself. Afterward, the Bishop announced that parishes across the Diocese would take up an emergency collection over the coming weeks to help areas like Hoosick Falls and Herkimer County, which was also hit with flooding.

Since the speed and volume of the flash flood took everyone by surprise, Father Zelker said he has witnessed several acts of kindness, "from the evacuation of neighbors, to helping out getting the water out of our church, to delivering pizza to the first responders, and to the Red Cross immediately taking care of people."

Other parishes have been calling to check on Immaculate Conception, he said.

"The Gospel this week is about a garden," Father Zelker said. "So, we're being tended to like a garden; we're going to 'bear harvest rich.' Even though we have stones around us, and weeds, we're going to bear harvest, because God's going to tend to us and nurture us."

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