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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 24, 2011

Digging in and cleaning up
One couple’s story of rebuilding after Irene’s floods

By Anne Hayden

SCHOHARIE — Jim and Jill Hotaling refuse to leave their house, despite the fact that they haven’t been able to live in it for the past three months, and likely won’t be able to inhabit it again for another five months.

They are living in their driveway in a camper.

Tropical Storm Irene filled the first floor of the Hotalings’ 1940s Sears and Roebuck house, in the village of Schoharie, with over four feet of water in August.

“You couldn’t even fathom it,” said Mrs. Hotaling, of the scene that met her eyes when she walked through her front door the morning after the storm.

The couple was out of town when the tropical storm swept through the Capital Region, but they were receiving constant updates from their daughter, who lives five miles from their Schoharie home.

Mr. Hotaling, who has lived in Schoharie his whole life, said he and his father had always gauged the severity of flooding by a canon in the village, a permanent fixture on the lawn of the nearby school. If floodwaters reached the canon, which is up on a hill, said Mr. Hotaling, villagers knew it was bad.

“When my daughter let me know that the water had risen up and even over the canon, I knew we were in trouble,” he said. He heard reports from neighbors that people were just abandoning their cars in the street and running up the hill.

“People were just scared to death,” he said.

Mrs. Hotaling said she felt like she suffered a mild form of post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing what the flooding had done to her house.

“I was just in shock; I was numb,” she said. “It is amazing what water will do. You just can’t imagine.”

The Hotalings described thick mud covering every surface, and stuck in every nook and cranny; waterlogged furniture; buckled hardwood floors and ruined carpets; and personal possessions like photo albums and books tossed around various rooms.

Most of the furniture, which had been inherited from Mrs. Hotaling’s mother, could not be saved. She was able to salvage her mother’s dining table, which has special meaning to her, because she uses it as a sewing table, and has vivid memories of watching her mother lay out patterns on it.

The table is missing a leg, so it is propped up on an empty bucket for now, the sole piece of furniture in an otherwise completely gutted first floor, but Mrs. Hotaling said she thinks it should be easy to fix.

“I fought for this,” she said, pointing to the table.

She also scurried to save any photographs she could.

“I was able to peel apart my wedding album while it was still wet and take out the pictures so they could dry,” she said. She was not able to save the baby book of one of her four children.

“You just don’t realize how important these things are to you until you don’t have them anymore,” Mrs. Hotaling said.

Others in a similar situation abandoned their homes altogether, and put them up for sale.

“You either fix it up, or you walk away,” said Mrs. Hotaling. “It’s a tough hit financially, but we’re going to do it anyway.”

The Hotalings are receiving some financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it won’t be enough to cover the entire cost of renovation.

Both retired teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Hotaling are grateful for all of the assistance they have received from volunteers. They have had people help with clean-up and removal, they eat a hot meal every day at the Schoharie Reformed Church’s Heritage House, and neighbors have pitched in to help them store and restore items.

“One lady took some of our pictures to her house and put them in her barn to dry out,” Mr. Hotaling said. “I didn’t even know her name, but one day she showed up on our doorstep and said, ‘Here are your pictures back.’”

The Hotalings are estimating that it could take another four to five months before their house is ready to be lived in again, and they worry that the village will still be abandoned at that point.

“You can either let it get to you, or you can have hope,” Mrs. Hotaling concluded. “I dug in my heels, and I am not leaving. This is my home.”

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