Luigi Benincasa stared Friday at the gargantuan task of cleaning and repairing his basement apartments that were destroyed by flash flooding during Tuesday’s storm when a couple of strangers appeared.
“I didn’t call anyone for help. They just showed up and asked if I needed help,” Benincasa said Saturday as a brigade of volunteers hustled ruined drywall out of basement apartments at 25 Elberon Place.
“I said, ‘yeah, I could use help gutting out,’ and they showed up with a crew, tools and a dumpster this morning. I could not believe my luck. This would have taken me forever.”
Members of Team Rubicon and the Ancient Order of Hibernians Boots On the Ground (BOG) unit, both veteran-led disaster relief organizations, began Operation Hudson Hawk on Saturday to aid Albany residents following the severe flooding that damaged homes, businesses and cars. Nearly three inches of rain fell in about an hour, overwhelming storm sewers. At least eight cars, including Benincasa’s, were destroyed after being almost completely submerged while parked on Elberon Place and in a nearby parking lot.
“We’re mucking out the place and removing furniture, mattresses and water-logged drywall,” said Marc DeNofio, a Marine Corps veteran from Niskayuna and New York state communications coordinator for Team Rubicon USA.
DeNofio and Army veteran Kristen Rouse of Brooklyn stood in Saturday’s hot sun outside the apartments wearing soiled gloves and boots and with disposable face masks hanging around their necks.
“This is very dirty work but very necessary work,” said Rouse who served three tours in logistics in Afghanistan. “These poor people lost everything and this is the least we can do to help out.”
With a couple of cases of bottled water nearby and taking breaks to go outside for fresh air, volunteers removed the first four feet of drywall from every room in two apartments, filling a large trash bin in about four hours.
The group also helped a homeowner on Hansen Avenue in Albany, just off South Main Street, where homes were damaged by the flooding.
Benincasa said he very much appreciates the kindness of the strangers, but the flooding will be very costly for him. He recently remodeled the exterior and interior of 25 Elberon Place, which is two side-by-side units.
“I will not be renting these two apartment in the future because I can’t afford to fix them right now and it would not be fair to tenants,” Benincasa said.
The city told him, he said, it would be 10 to 15 years before the city may get the funding to fix the antiquated storm sewer system that causes the problems in heavy rain.
“I bought the place in 2008 and the basements have flooded six to eight times since then,” Benincasa said. “It is just too costly and inconvenient for me and tenants.”
Team Rubicon is a nonprofit organization founded after the 2010 Haiti earthquake by Jake Wood and William McNulty, both Marine Corps veterans. It has grown from eight to 16,000 members with more than 65 operations under its belt, including Haiti, Superstorm Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
Beyond Operation Hudson Hawk, Team Rubicon is currently providing relief in Pateros, Wash., for wildfires, and Mount Baldy, Calif., for mudslides.
The groups also helped people whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the Duanesburg tornado in May.
“We still have work to be done up there,” said AOH BOG member Jim Scott of Schenectady. “We gave up our Memorial Day weekend to help them and some of us will be going out there again to cut some trees that people still need removed.”