The Irene stories coming from our local business community are many, and varied. And despite everyone losing business, in various levels, there’s a general sense of strong lessons learned, now, and of greater preparedness for future weather events that all seem convinced will just become more regular at this point.
Peter Cantine, at The Bear Café, noted how he and partner Eric Mann went out and rented a generator for their Bearsville compound before the rains came, “pro-actively.” It allowed them to stay open throughout the power blackouts in town, despite suffering flooding in their basements, and the loss of The Little Bear’s patio, and damage to its lower level of indoor dining.
“We have no flood insurance,” Cantine said.
But then he added how the property’s previous owner, Sally Grossman, had had a lot of work done on the Sawkill Creek that flows by, and in places under, the compound’s two restaurants, as well as the Bearsville Theater.
“Boulders were placed to keep the banks from eroding out under the buildings,” Cantine said. “Some of those were dislodged. We’re looking for FEMA help with that.”
Bob Whitcomb, owner of Sunflower Natural Foods, said he also had a small generator on hand to help keep his produce safe from spoilage. But he couldn’t get hold of the larger generator he would have needed for his freezers.
“I gave away a lot of stuff, sending cartons of food up to Windham and Margaretville and telling customers who came in during the storm to empty out the freezers of ice cream and such things,” he said, noting that there was also quite a bit that just had to get tossed. “We ended up being 60 hours without power…At least we got a chance to wash out all our freezers.”
Whitcomb has since put up information on the Sunflower website directing visitors how to donate to flood victims throughout the Catskills. And been able to restock everything lost, by and large, even though the effort meant taking a delivery on Labor Day. It was a light weekend, he said.
As for all the solar cells he had put in on top of the building he shares with Rite Aid drugstore in Bradley Meadows, Whitcomb said there was no power system for it to synchronize to. When the sun came out Monday and Tuesday, he added, there was still no capture, no gain.
“I’m looking at the possibility of a back-up generator now,” he added.
Jackie Kellachan, of Golden Notebook, said she stayed open through the blackout without electricity.
“We just did everything by hand, and with cash,” she explained. “We gave people flashlights to look around in the stacks with.”
Physically, she described some water that got into a storeroom in the back, although it did not damage any books. Moreover, she noted how business was off by about half over the recent Labor Day weekend…as if everyone were just too tired from the previous week to travel, or shop.
“Yum Yum stayed open for lunch everyday through the blackout,” she added. “That was kind of great.”
According to folks at Oriole 9, whose owners Pierre-Luc Moeys and Nina Paturel also operate Yum Yum, they lost a lot at their restaurants due to spoilage and had to keep their flagship restaurant closed all Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Then it took time for deliveries to get them caught up on things.
“It kind of takes a week to get back on track,” said the day manager who talked to us this week, asking that her name not be mentioned.
Matthew Ballister at Sunfrost, in the Bearsville Flats, said his purchase of a generator years ago, when he remodeled and expanded his business, finally paid off during Irene, giving him the chance to stay open throughout everything that occurred. He spoke about past weather incidents doing back into a Northeaster in the 1990s and Hurricane Floyd.
“We barely used the generator over eight years. But we were ready,” Ballister said.
People who used Sunfrost as a base while their own electricity was out, though, pretty much passed on buying any produce that could spoil…because they didn’t have the refrigeration to keep things in their homes. As a result, Ballister said, his Juice Bar did extra business selling coffee and prepared foods that the Ballister family tried to keep replenished.
He added that the cost of propane was running $200 a day, and the added take-out and café business barely made up for the loss in usual business. Moreover, Ballister noted his loss of clients elsewhere, up in Windham and Margaretville and other places.
“What was good was being able to help Woodstock,” Ballister concluded. “For whatever reasons, this little valley was absolutely blessed.”
Mud and rotting food
Meanwhile, up the road in Boiceville on Labor Day, we stopped in on a small group of muddied men in front of the Boiceville Market. The air was redolent with the smell of mud and rotting food.
“We’re waiting here for the insurance adjusters,” said Mario Occhi, the store’s owner. “I’m going to reopen as soon as I can but I can’t clean up until they give me the go-ahead and see what the situation is here.”
Water ran through the store. Mud’s everywhere. All the freezers and refrigerators are filled with what’s been in them, rotting, for over a week now.
Violet Snow checks in with news from Phoenicia, which was busy with work crews that same day, struggling to get back on its feet.
Brio’s Pizzeria and Restaurant and the adjoining Sportsman’s Alamo Cantina received an infusion of mud, and the terrace in front of the pizzeria was badly damaged, as was the parking lot, proprietor Mike Ricciardella had told her. Yet he had crews at work soon after floodwaters receded and was able to open the morning after power was restored to Main Street on Friday afternoon, September 2.
Sue Taylor of Sweet Sue’s told Snow that her popular eatery also required a major cleanup and repair to sheetrock, but her new septic system, installed since the December flood, held up well. She expects to reopen the cafe this coming September 9 weekend, provided her refrigeration equipment is functioning properly.
Finally, Phoenicia Wines and Liquors owner Declan Feehan said his place had never flooded before, but a picnic table had lodged in a hole next to the sidewalk and apparently caused a backwash that left a foot of water inside and damaged his boiler.
“We all got hit, but nothing like those other towns” Cantine reminded everyone in Woodstock. “One more foot and the Sawkill would have come in on us. What can I say? We were lucky…”++
Digging through the muck
Phoenicians receive help cleaning up after Irene
by Violet Snow
“It’s better than sitting at home fretting,” explained Christine Becker, as she and three other gallant women helped me clear mud and debris from my flooded garage after the hurricane. These women were among the volunteers who flocked to Phoenicia on Friday, September 2, to help with the recovery process in a tremendous outpouring of assistance. Over the weekend, Woodstockers also collected over $15,000 in donations for the relief of Phoenicia.
Everyone in the region was impacted by the hurricane, since we all lost power for a period ranging from two days to a week or more. But people whose homes sustained no damage came from Woodstock, Olive, Saugerties, and Shandaken to help others, some people shoveling dirt from Main Street so the drains would not clog in the predicted rain, some going into homes to help with cleanup.
Notices went out on Facebook and other websites, drawing a crowd of over 150 people. The Phoenicia Rotary Club and the town’s emergency services organized the volunteer effort, setting up a tent on Main Street where people in need of help could sign up, and those ready to work could find assignments. Work crews were assembled, and they spread out on the streets with shovels and particle masks.
The easiest thing to do if you needed help with your home, an organizer pointed out, was to turn to the person next to you. I saw my friend Chris standing there, asked if she wanted to help with the garage, and soon I had a crew of my own.
The next morning, a tag team of trucks rolled past the house, and four men filled two pickup trucks with the soggy books, papers, and other detritus piled in front of my garage. Two of the men had brought their young daughters, who helped me pack muddy clothing into garbage bags. In half an hour, my driveway was clear. It was like having a pack of angels swoop down.
Many people had more serious problems. Houses along the Esopus in Mount Tremper were shifted off their foundations. Several homes along Route 212 and up the Oliverea Road were inundated, their structure and contents ruined.
Joe and Judy Livoti, who live on Riseley Road in Mount Tremper, were awakened at 6 a.m. on August 29 by the nearby fire siren, which they knew from past experience was a signal to evacuate. They checked the yard and the basement, but everything looked fine. Usually when there’s flooding, says Joe, it comes up the street in front of the house, but around 7 a.m., Judy spotted water seeping into the back yard.
“Within 10 minutes, we were flooded,” recalls Joe. He fired up the generator and extra sump pump he had borrowed, but after five minutes, it couldn’t keep up with the water gushing into the basement.
They called 911, and rescuers came in a pontoon boat with a small motor. They put the bow of the boat on the front porch, and the Livotis had to slide into the boat on their bellies, the dog on their backs. On Route 28, they were picked up by an ambulance and ended up in the Red Cross shelter at Belleayre.
When they returned home, they found a mud line three feet high on the walls, the contents ruined. On Monday, the Rotary sent 30 people over to help empty the house of furniture and debris and carry it away. “It humbles us that all these people have helped us,” says Joe. “They gave out so much love, and we feel so fortunate.”
The foundation of the Livotis’ house was declared sound by a FEMA inspector. Their son, Joe, came from Texas, and a close friend, Judd Eden, came from California to help tear down the walls to the studs. They plan to let the house dry out and then rebuild.
“People keep saying, ‘You’re so cheerful,’” says Joe. “When your life passes before your eyes, and you’re still alive, you feel lucky.”
Jay Street, which lies between Main Street and the Esopus, didn’t get power back until Sunday night. Saugerties residents Sandra Smith and Frank Campbell were there Monday morning, pulling debris out of the shrubs around the house they own. The neighbors had driven their tenant to the evacuation shelter at Belleayre when the water was rising. Smith and Campbell arrived after the storm to find the tenant’s car shifted several feet from the driveway. In the basement, their oil tank had been knocked over and broken open, and the oil had soaked into the electric panel, ductwork, and floor joists. They had the town turn off the electricity to the house for fear of starting a fire when the power came back on.
“The DEC is having a company come with a container to take out everything that’s soaked with oil,” said Smith. “I can’t even go into the basement, the fumes are so strong.”
And what can be done about the floor joists? “We don’t know.”
FEMA, firefighters, bodyworkers
All through the crisis and beyond, the town’s volunteer fire department have been hard at work, rescuing stranded people, pumping out basements, and coordinating with county, state, and federal personnel at the Phoenicia fire house, which has served as a command post for recovery activities. The department’s women have made breakfast, lunch, and dinner freely available at the fire house for residents and workers alike. “The firefighters have been tremendous, every fireman, every department,” said supervisor Rob Stanley.
He also praised men from the Ulster County Sheriff’s office who have been consistently on hand, including undersheriff Frank Faluotico; Sgt. Perry Soule, who got information to the public when no phones or Internet were functioning; and Sgt. C. J. Polacco, who was in charge of logistics. “When somebody said, ‘We need whatever,’ he’d figure out how to get it,” said Stanley.
The Red Cross has been present, with workers from as far away as Florida handing out hot meals, cases of water, and buckets of cleaning supplies to residents mucking out their homes. Although town water was at first tested as drinkable, by Monday, contamination and sediment had rendered it unfit to drink, so bottles of spring water have been distributed throughout the water district.
FEMA is also in town, encouraging people whose homes were damaged to go online at http://www.fema.gov/ or to visit their representatives at Belleayre to register with the federal agency, which will evaluate eligibility for monetary assistance to make repairs.
A crew of bodyworkers, organized by Woodstock chiropractor Emily Bobson, set up at Phoenicia’s Parish Hall on Monday to offer free massage and chiropractic to workers.
The Phoenicia Methodist Church has received copious donations of clothing, household goods, and toiletries, and they invite anyone in need of these items to come and take them. The church is open this week from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 29 Church Street and will remain open as long as needed, said volunteer Adrienne Sorensen. She said furniture is being collected for distribution at the former tool-renting store on Route 28, west of Phoenicia. Check with Rotary members next to Key Bank on Main Street for details.++
From Violet Snow, 10 a.m., Wednesday, September 7, after yet another night of driving rain:
A fireman came by our house at 6 a.m. this morning and suggested we evacuate, as the river was reaching floodstage. We are here at the Belleyare relief center. The first person we encountered was young man whose trailer on Creek Locks Road was destroyed by the hurricane. He and his wife and kid have been living here for over a week.
Tony Lanza just told me the Stony Clove Creek dredging job is working, and that Main Street would be under water now if not for the removal of all that rock. He says the flood is cresting, but it’s too soon to go home. He has kindly agreed to transmit my article and photos to you.
Cell phones don’t work up here, but I’ll try to give you a call a bit later from the lobby phone, which is freely available.++
Woodstockers collect $15,000 for Phoenicia flood relief
“As soon as power was restored Friday morning,” said Woodstock resident Kerry Cubas, “I called up our supervisor, Jeff Moran. I was at first dismayed and then almost outraged to learn that the town had no intention of helping our Phoenicia neighbors. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called the Phoenicia supervisor, Rob Stanley, to ascertain their needs and to find an already established 501c3 so we could take monies in.”
Cubas, who lost her husband in the September 11 attacks, learned from that experience that relief donations, when channeled through large, non-local agencies, often do not wind up in the hands of the people who need them. “It’s glaringly apparent that the way to help a community is to keep things local,” she said. “So I found the Phoenicia Rotary, spoke with their president, Ken Jacobs, and called back to Jeff Moran, who agreed to allow me to set up a collection stand in front of the old town hall. I wanted that location and the town’s sanction so it would lend credibility. We were a motley crew out there collecting.”
Spreading word through Facebook that she needed volunteers, Cubas stood out on the double yellow line of Tinker Street. The first day, she was the only one collecting, but Saturday and Sunday volunteers gathered to help. “I was really determined to capitalize on the holiday tourist traffic,” she said. “That proved to be a good idea. They were quite generous, as were many of the local people.”
Among the dollar bills still to be counted on her kitchen table on Monday, Cubas had “a guitar pick, a dog tag, a safety pin, and some pocket lint. People were literally digging into their pockets. It was such a beautiful outpouring. Some people were almost in tears because they only had a few coins, people who have fallen hard times and wished they could give more. It really ran the gamut. There was one incredibly generous donation.”
Having collected over $15,000, Cubas has joined the Phoenicia Rotary and is now working with Jacobs and other members to “assess the needs of the community while simultaneously networking to find out what kinds of goods and service we can be buying at cost to really stretch that money.”
Meanwhile, Cubas cannot afford to hire someone to cut up the tree that the storm knocked down across her driveway. “I’m looking for some nice guy with a chainsaw who’s not looking to capitalize on a disaster.”++
Water, water everywhere
And a news site is built by links
By Labor Day weekend, The Watershed Post editor Lissa Harris had subsisted on four to six hours of sleep for ten days running. “Even when I’m asleep I have trouble turning off the story,” she said. “I dream in Twitter.”
It has been a very long week at The Watershed Post, a web-only news organization based in Andes. The online newspaper was founded to cover the expansive, five-county region of the New York City watershed. And when your first name is “water,” Hurricane Irene is, well, a watershed news event. (See www.watershedpost.com)
Launched in January 2010 by Woodstock native Lissa Harris and her wife Julia Reischel, the Post had built a small but devoted daily audience of roughly 1200 readers. But in the past week has the site truly come into its own. By the end of the day Sunday, August 28, its audience had swelled to 60,000 along with the floodwaters surrounding its constituents. What the first Gulf War was to CNN, Irene has been to The Watershed Post — a defining moment in the development of a new news brand and a still-evolving new medium.
Watershed Post coverage has included not only extensive staff and user-contributed online stories, but also chilling video flood footage from across the region, a live spreadsheet locating and tracking stranded area residents, an interactive map of flood sites and road conditions, and a live news blog to which hundreds of users have contributed real-time news about available shelters, access to food, assistance, and rescue information. In so doing, the site and its founders have also become a go-to source for national media on conditions in the area. The couple has been interviewed in the past week by CNN, NPR, WNYC, WAMC, Democracy Now, and The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times reporter slept in their newsroom.
But this newsroom boasts several features not found at most community newspapers — a hollow-core door repurposed as both dining room table and news desks, a married staff of two, and a three-year daughter named Ruby closely underfoot. “We’re a mom-and-mom organization,” says Reischel, the Post’s 29-year-old publisher, from the couple’s two-bedroom apartment-newsroom on Route 28 in Andes. She and her wife, editor and business partner Lissa Harris, 35, co-founded the Watershed Post out of boredom and disaffection with their promising but traditional Boston-based careers in mainstream journalism. According to Reischel, they chose as their coverage area the 4800 square miles of Delaware, Ulster, Greene, Sullivan and Schoharie counties because this region is “woefully under-served” by existing media and because of its importance as a watershed, cherished by its residents as well as vital to New York City.
How a full-time staff of two attempts to effectively cover 80 towns in five counties is part of a larger story in American local media. The Watershed Post is part of a broader movement in community journalism borne of the travails of the traditional print newspaper industry. Referred to collectively as “hyper-local journalism,” these websites marry the strengths of social networking software with old-fashioned feet on the street to cover the school boards, town halls, soccer games and traffic accidents abandoned by financially strapped or defunct local newspapers. These sites utilize informal but often deeply committed networks of “citizen journalists,” powered by Facebook, Twitter and other social software to create news organizations in which readers and editorial contributors are often indistinguishable. In the best of cases, the collective effect is an organic, living, breathing “newspaper” whose content evolves as its readers respond to news and in turn report more of it. As New York Times media columnist David Carr said in a recent conversation, “The medium is no longer the message; the message is now the medium.”
A citizen army
And for The Watershed Post, the message had become quite an urgent one by early last weekend. “We knew things were gonna be ugly,” said Harris. “We just didn’t know where.” On Saturday morning, as Irene churned its way up the mid-Atlantic coast, Harris and Reischel poured over published National Weather Service and online stream-gauge data throughout the region to help pinpoint where major flooding was most likely. The pair also scoured other news outlets as well as Facebook and Twitter, publishing links to storm related news believed most informative and reliable.
By Saturday afternoon as the pace of news accelerated, The Post had decided to launch a “cover-it-live” blog, allowing users to contribute and interact about breaking news in real time. As the storm hit, The Post turned largely to citizen news sources. “You Tube was exploding with citizen videos,” says Harris. “We were finding social media much faster and on-the-news than major media.” By the end of the weekend, “we had a small citizen army mobilized here,” contributing live news and images to the site. At its peak, the Cover it Live blog had over 2000 users reading or writing live.
Early in the week, the site also went live with three innovative, user-sourced and potentially life-saving news features. The site launched two spreadsheets, designed to track the most vital of information. Built by Julia Reischel and later updated by Ivan Lajara of the Daily Freeman, with whom The Watershed Post has cooperated actively, one spreadsheet tracked the status of people stranded by the floods, and a second the location of verifiably trustworthy donation and relief centers. A third feature, an authoritative map designed and managed by Don Meltz, a local GIS (Geographic Information Systems) expert, provided real-time updates on road conditions, flood sites, and safe routes of passage.
“At the height of the flooding, The Watershed Post was not only the most reliable news on the crisis,” said Woodstock resident Barbara Mansfield who lives with her family on the banks of the Sawkill Creek on Route 212. “It was the only news on the crisis.” ++