A massive blast of winter in Buffalo that saw up to two metres of snow all but paralyze the city didn’t go unnoticed by the local Mennonite community, as members of the Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) headed down to help our neighbours to the south last weekend.
Orlan Martin, who spent November 21 helping people shovel out their homes, said the volunteers who went were given very short notice.
“We had lots of guys responding,” Martin said. “On Saturday we had about 60 people out of Ontario and approximately that many out of the United States. On Saturday we shovelled snow off of 300 homes and then the next day there was another group that went and it was even bigger than Saturday.”
They went to many farms similar to ones we see in Woolwich. Some of the farm buildings had already collapsed with the weight of the snow. By mid-afternoon Sunday, they were pretty caught up with helping shovel what they were assigned.
“They respond very well to short order,” Martin said. “I know them well and they know me. When I cry they jump. If you work for a boss and you want to be a real good worker and he says jump you jump and ask how high on the way up.”
He said many of the homes they shovelled off were mobile homes, which are lower than your typical house. Once they had the snow off the roof they could walk right off because the snow was at least as high as the eaves troughs and sometimes much higher.
“The joke went around you had to be careful not to slip and fall down on the roof because the snow was higher than the roof,” Martin said.
The volunteers arrived ready to work, bringing their own shovels and ropes with them. Martin said they had some trouble getting through the border because typically when MDS sends volunteers to a disaster they need two weeks to process the documents, but they didn’t have that kind of time to waste.
“Some of them left without an address to go to,” Martin said. “They just figured we didn’t have the address ready and we just told them to go and call back for the address when you get close to the place. That all worked out fine.”
He said any time that people are in a dilemma, or in a place where they can’t help themselves that’s where MDS comes in. Most of the time it’s a natural disaster but sometimes they go to manmade disasters, too.
On Wednesday, in a 24-hour period a few dozen houses broke down. By Thursday night 50 had caved in. He said the need for assistance was urgent and they had wanted to get there before any homes were further damaged.
“We want to let the people know what happened, that’s for sure,” Martin said.
Buffalo and surrounding areas now face the challenge of flooding as temperatures rise.
A total of more than 300 MDS volunteers leant their efforts to homeowners across New York over the weekend.
“It’s as important as any other disaster,” Martin said. “The urgency was far more than we’ve ever experienced.”