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With the help of a faith-based non-profit, Sharpsburg is still recovering from dangerous summer floods

By October 9, 2018 No Comments

“It’s really a beautiful thing they have here in Sharpsburg.”

Kathleen Lipinski of Roots of Faith in Sharpsburg. (Current Photo by Martha Rial)

On July 2, Nyketta Glover stood on her back porch in Sharpsburg and watched the water rise. In seconds, her basement door cracked off it’s hinges. Brown, murky water rose to the landing of her basement stairs. Feces and sewage floated beside furniture, birth certificates, winter clothes, bicycles and family photos.

“The pressure of the water was so hard that it busted all four doors open,” Glover says.

She panicked. Glover has two young sons who live with her, Jacob and Jamari, ages 7 and 9, respectively. They ran to the porch. Glover’s husband was walking home. The boys wondered if their dad would be OK?

Police officers appeared as the water continued to rise. They shouted at Glover to stay on the porch because the current could sweep her and her sons away. That’s when she watched her car float down the street.

“We were trapped in here…I’m on the porch crying and screaming. And then I saw my washer machine floating down the street,” Glover says.

When her husband arrived, he was barefoot, trudging his way home to his family. He carried fireworks for the 4th of July. Their sons screamed for their father, terrified the water would take him away with it.

Flood waters in Sharpsburg in July 2018 (Photo by Nanci Goldberg)

The rain began at 6 p.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. The flood waters finally receded about two hours after the rain stopped. On the 4th of July, Sharpsburg would be hit again, but not as bad. Nyketta lives about a block from 16th and Main Street in Sharpsburg. The water reached four to five feet deep, almost flooding the Fire Department down the street.

Mayor Matthew Rudzki says it was garbage night in O’Hara township. The debris blocked the grates and drainage in the streets which magnified the effects of the rain. All that water uphill came barreling down to the valley. Sharpsburg was essentially a bathtub.

“I’ve never seen it rain that hard in my entire life,” Rudzki says.

The morning of July 3rd, at 800 Main Street, Kathleen Lipinksi was looking out the big glass window of Roots of Faith. She is Director of the church and runs the organization’s anti-poverty campaign, community dinners, and other outreach services. She had started coffee and opened the doors at 6 a.m.. She wondered if anyone would need flood relief. People would need buckets and cleaning supplies. People would have water in their basements.

And yet, Roots of Faith remained untouched by the flooding.

FEMA denied funding to the entire state of Pennsylvania for the flooding and landslides that occured in June and July of this year. The local and state damages did not meet their threshold.  The City of Pittsburgh, PennDOT, Etna, Millvale and Shaler all sent crews to Sharpsburg to help with street cleanup. Mayor Rudzki said there was about four to five inches of muck and mud caked on the streets.

So, Sharpsburg had a two-pronged approach. The Borough handled street cleanup and Roots of Faith became the rally point for securing cleaning supplies and food.

“If you can take a silver lining out of a situation like this, it just shows you the power of people coming together and community,” Rudzki says.

Fighting the Devastation

The Borough of Sharpsburg is just under a square mile. It’s a small community along the Allegheny River with a population of 3,446. 20 percent of Sharpsburg residents are disabled. The poverty rate in Sharpsburg is 22 percent by some estimations and 30 percent by others. Sharpsburg also has a significant senior citizen population.

These were the people who would need the most help. Lipinksi started with food.

Dozens of homes were flooded. Cars were swept down the street. Houses shifted off of their foundations.  Kathleen and her staff started handing out food to residents and emergency workers. She instructed her volunteers and staff to ask people what they needed.

“We started writing down everybody’s needs. Literally. Man, we talked to, that first day, 30 homes, easy. That was just in Sharpsburg…By the end of that day I bet we had seen 40, 50 homes and fed those people” Lipinksi says.

Lipinksi broadcasted Facebook Live videos from Roots of Faith telling social media audiences what Sharpsburg needed. By the end of the day, her building was a quarter full of buckets, cleaning supplies, bottled water and more. Kathleen also took to social media asking for physical help, anyone willing to lend a hand. By July 5th, they had 50 volunteers on their doorstep.

“Most of them walked these streets and found people who were in need…we started putting a spreadsheet together,” Lipinksi continues, “The names that we would collect, we would call them. We had a crew of people call them almost every day and say, ‘How are you doing, what do you need?’ We just let them know that somebody cares.”

Flood victims started to line up at Roots of Faith’s door. Lipinksi said her front hall was filled front to back four times over with food, buckets, water, masks (so people wouldn’t get sick while they were cleaning), bleach and flashlights.

Whatever Lipinksi put out a call for, she received.

Glover says Roots of Faith saved her family. “The Roots of Faith helped me 100 percent. I love those people down there. They were coming every day: dropping off cleaning products, dropping off bleach, having the Pastor come over.”

When the scope of the disaster became apparent, Lipinksi reached out to United Methodist Committee on Relief. The organization is a humanitarian relief effort of the United Methodist Church. They focus their efforts on hunger, health, refugees, emergencies and  relief supplies.

UMCOR provided 100 flood buckets packed strategically with hygiene kits, bleach and towels. UMCOR also contacted Mayor Rudzki and asked how the borough needed help. They offered to take over the disaster relief effort and Rudzki said yes.

UMCOR provided trainings for anyone who wanted to go out and clean homes. Those trainings took place at Roots of Faith. This was within five days of the flooding.

“As fast as those supplies went out, they were refilled,” says Mary Jo, a volunteer at Roots of Faith.

Lipinksi also called UPMC to ask what health risks there were for residents. She knew there was sewage in the water. UPMC cautioned against cleaning and removing mud from homes without proper experience or training. They also advised that Sharpsburg residents all get tetanus shots. UPMC provided a free tetanus shot clinic at Roots of Faith for clean up crews and victims.

Still Rebuilding

The belongings in Glover’s basement weren’t her own. They were her older son’s. She had convinced him to move into the house next door. The flood happened before her son could fully move in. And now, four months later, he’s leaving.

“They’re traumatized.” she says, “I couldn’t replace the things that are gone. Especially my son’s stuff. His baby’s birth books, their birth certificates, their pictures, were all destroyed.”

Glover and her younger sons are traumatized, too. Jamari is autistic. Every time it rains he has to sleep with his mother. He panics on his way home from school. Glover will rush to the bus stop on rainy days so that her son is assured that she is alive. Sometimes, when it rains, he will call her from school just to hear her voice.

“Imagine if the kids were down in the basement playing. They would have drowned,” Glover said.

Glover still doesn’t have a furnace; she just got a hot water tank at the end of September. Drowned mice littered her basement. Glover says she’s always done well for herself, always been able to provide for her family. She broke into tears when she said, “As the clean up was happening, I found myself feeding my family off the Salvation Army truck. I never thought in a million years that was something I’d have to do, but we were hungry.”

Because of the flood, Glover lost her younger sons’ winter clothes. Their snow boots, hats, sweaters and coats were all lost. Roots of Faith has also helped them find toys and clothes for the coming months. They registered Glover’s family at the Free Store, told her, “take anything you need or want.”

“I was just pouring down tears, crying,” said Glover, “If it weren’t for Roots of Faith, I don’t know how we would have made it through this. It’s really a beautiful thing they have here in Sharpsburg.”

Glover’s next goal is to let her son play in the rain so he can realize, “we’re gonna be OK.”

 

Brittany Hailer is a Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer. Contact her at info@pittsburghcurrent.com. 

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