Snowed in & grieving, DR leader did job
But tragedy didn't stop Flannery, disaster relief director for the Baptist Convention of New York, from responding to a community paralyzed by as much as 7 feet of snow.
"Only under God's strength" were he and his wife able to help, Flannery told Baptist Press. "It's been a very big struggle for us. We're just trusting in the Lord and He's sustaining us."
Flannery had just signed a contract with a snow removal contractor the day before the storm hit Nov. 17 and was therefore the first in his neighborhood to be freed from the snow. It took three men eight hours to tackle the 4½ feet of snow at his house.
"My wife and I had to be dug out ourselves before we could help anybody," Flannery said. "The Emergency Management Office was not too far away and once we got dug out, we could get over there and they put us right to work. We started to get the emails out to our people that we needed to get over here and help dig out," said Flannery, who co-chairs the Erie and Niagara County VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster.)
"We don't have a job description for disaster relief for digging out, but we just had to say bring your snow shovels and yourself, and we'll get you out there working," Flannery said. "And that's what we did."
The Flannerys were dealing with more than snow. Their 31-year-old son Luke died of cardiac arrest on Oct. 18 at the home he shared with his parents.
"He had cardiac arrest at the house and that's the only circumstance we know about right now," Flannery said. "God sustains and it's a difficult time, and [Thanksgiving] will be very difficult, because my son Luke was an excellent cook."
They weren't able to work the long days they usually do in such emergencies, Flannery said, but instead worked a few hours each day to organize relief efforts.
"My wife did that and I was a little bit more active than she was because of the loss involved here," he said.
As the weather has warmed, DR workers had feared flooding as the snow melted. But the community has not flooded and relief efforts ended Nov. 25.
"The streams didn't back up. There were no ice jams. It was really a blessing. So, after all that snow, you're still digging out in some places, but we stood down yesterday," Flannery said today (Nov. 26). "Because there was no flooding, we didn't have to get the muck-out teams in or the feeding teams in to do anything."
The three-day response encompassed more than 200 volunteers, Flannery said.
"We were blessed. We got many jobs done for digging out. There was a warm front that came through, and about half the snow … melted away," he said. "We got a lot of support to get it off the driveways and the roads. All told, we had 1,750 man-hours that we did to dig out people. But the floods didn't come."
Volunteers included Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Methodist, Catholics and others who did not identify themselves with any church.
"Spontaneous volunteers did the job as well as Southern Baptists and other religious groups that we work with. We had a good number of Southern Baptists but the majority were from other denominations," he said. "Basically we did the coordination for the lion's share of the volunteerism in this western New York community over here."