“Roads in Shandaken are seriously compromised,” stated Sgt. Perry Soule of the Ulster County Sheriff’s office Wednesday morning, August 31, at the Phoenicia fire house, the command center for local emergency services dealing with the flood. Soule requested that second-homeowners stay away from the town to allow emergency and repair vehicles access to the roads, many of which are crumbling away at the edges and reduced to one lane in some areas.
“I know it’s Labor Day weekend, and I don’t want to take away from local businesses,” said Soule, “but this is a safety issue. Everyone should keep off the roads as much as possible.”
State, county, and town emergency vehicles lined the streets around the fire house, along with several National Guard trucks. Main Street was closed off for a few hours as a highway crew, working in clouds of dust, cleaned up the mud deposited by floodwaters.
Soule said there had been over 20 water rescues of people trapped by floodwaters on Sunday. One dog was saved. “At the moment, we’re not doing rescues,” he said, “just checking on people to make sure they’re okay.” He did not have figures on the number of homes devastated by the flood along the Esopus. Residents of some of those homes have been staying at the Red Cross shelter at Belleayre, where anyone in need of food or a hot shower may stop in, as power had not been restored as of Wednesday morning.
Donations of food and clothing are being accepted at the Phoenicia and Shandaken/Allaben fire houses for people who have lost everything in their homes. Supplies are also enroute from the state, said Soule.
Arrangements were being made with Ulster County Area Transport to establish a continuously looping bus route from Belleayre to Main Street, Phoenicia, to begin operating on Wednesday.
Water quality in Phoenicia is safe, according to supervisor Rob Stanley.
“Six bridges are out or compromised on the Oliverea Road,” said Stanley, Tuesday, taking a short break from his post at the command center in the Phoenicia firehouse. “There are 200 kids at the Frost Valley camp, with no way to get out.” The camp does, however, have generators and supplies, and everyone there is fine.
A bridge collapse just above Hatchery Hollow Road has prevented cars and trucks from passing in either direction, but state police and National Guardsmen have headed up the notch on ATVs carrying food and medical supplies. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had gotten as far as Full Moon Lodge. “Beyond that, there’s a ravine,” reported Stanley. “A 45-foot stretch of road is gone. It’s a little bit below the Giant Ledge trailhead. But everyone’s fine. We’ve had no communication with Denning except for the Frost Valley camp.”
On the town website, he thanks the owners of Full Moon Lodge for inviting residents trapped in the valley to “come to their establishment where they have generators, food and other supplies.”
The people at Full Moon were expected to be brought down the valley by Wednesday afternoon.
Phoenicia’s Main Street was underwater on Sunday. The next day, storekeepers were shoveling mud out their front doors. But the most dramatic damage in town was to the Bridge Street bridge and the road beyond it. Numerous massive tree trunks are blocking the bridge, and its guardrails are largely gone. One of the two columns supporting the bridge was washed away.
At the end of the bridge, the intersection with High Street has been replaced by a canyon of rubble and mud, and the entrance to Station Road is completely inaccessible except by foot.
Among the people regarding the damage on Tuesday morning was Kerryth Kilduir, who lives in the house on the corner of Station Road. She evacuated to the Red Cross shelter at Belleayre Mountain at 3 am on Sunday. “The town had given out emergency weather radios,” explained Kilduir. “It started going off at 2 a.m. Belleayre is the place to go if you have to evacuate. Everyone was so nice, and you can take your dogs.” Kilduir has two dogs that joined a group of 20 or more well-behaved canines at the shelter.
“Over 100 people were there,” she said. “The Red Cross dropped off cots and a nurse, and the Belleayre employees took care of us. They made us spaghetti and meatballs, chicken fingers and French fries, bacon and eggs for breakfast. I went home Monday at 7 a.m. After two full days of wind and rain, when the sun came out, someone said, ‘Now I know how Noah felt.’”
Kilduir’s car is parked on Bridge Street, in walking distance of her two-story house, which had several inches of water on the ground floor. “Even with everything downstairs ruined,” she said, “I made out pretty well. The trailers down the road are completely ruined.”
When she returned to Phoenicia Monday morning, she stopped for coffee and doughnuts at the fire house, communing with fellow members of the fire department. “It was an oasis,” she said. “The fire house has been a godsend for a lot of people.”
Most of Shandaken, except for Pine Hill, was still without power as of Wednesday afternoon, although water has been consistently available in the Phoenicia Water District.
Recovery could take ‘months’
On Monday, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein called the post-Irene flooding the worst natural disaster in Ulster County’s history.” On Wednesday, Hein, joined by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey and, via teleconference, state Sen. Bill Larkin and Assemblyman Pete Lopez, said help — from as places as near as New York City and as far as Tulsa, Oklahoma — was on the way.
In a news briefing held at Hein’s sixth-floor office in the county office building in Uptown Kingston Wednesday afternoon, the executive gave an update on the efforts to help people whose lives have been turned inside out by the havoc-wreaking floods which swept away several homes, drowned numerous cars and swallowed up at least several million dollars worth of the county’s infrastructure. Hein said that so far, the estimate of damage to just county roads and bridges is somewhere between $8 million and $10 million dollars. “That’s only a small portion of the damage we’ve seen throughout the county,” Hein said.
Hein noted that the scope of the disaster is pushing the region onto the global stage. “We’ve had inquiries from as far away as Japan about the disaster.”
The heavy rain and high winds hit hardest in the southeastern and northwestern sections of the county, raising creeks well past flood stage and rendering more than 80 roads impassible, though that number dwindled to about a dozen on Wednesday. The Coldbrook Bridge in Shandaken was swept away and nobody seems to be able to find it. Seventy-foot trees were seen plunging down the raging Esopus Creek, also in Shandaken.
New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Environmental Conservation authorized releases from Catskill reservoirs to mitigate downstream flooding. Releases were halted as water rapidly rose.
County Emergency Management Office Director Art Snyder said the Esopus Creek crested 12 feet above flood stage, the Rondout nine feet and the Wallkill six feet. Hein advised that bridges over creeks that crested would be studied by engineers for structural damage.
The ban on non-emergency driving had been lifted earlier in the week, but Hein continued to ask people to proceed with caution and not to drive through flooded areas.
“We should not lose sight that there are people still living in shelters that have no home to go home to,” Hein said, adding that the recovery “will be measured in months, not days or hours.”
From the direction of Washington, D.C., significant assistance is coming. President Obama on Wednesday declared Ulster a disaster area, making it eligible for federal funding. Hein said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, will soon be on the scene setting up disaster assistance centers and he’s asking for the first one to be set up at the Belleayre Ski Center, where displaced people from the hardest-hit towns of Shandaken, Olive, Hardenburgh and Denning are taking refuge. Hein urged people with damage to file quick claims with their insurance companies and FEMA; a link to the FEMA website is on the county website at ulstercountyny.gov. FEMA can also be reached at 1-800-621-3362.
County Emergency Management Director Art Snyder said the focus on Wednesday was getting to people in Shandaken, Hardenburgh and Denning who remained isolated. Snyder added that while rescues were still going on, recovery had started too, aided significantly by Obama’s declaration — those on hand Wednesday thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his swift action. “Never before have I seen a declaration come through in this amount of time.” Snyder said Ulster is now eligible for “Individual Assistance” and “Public Assistance” — both regular people and local governments can apply to FEMA for money.
Power still out for thousands
Central Hudson spokesman John Maserjian said that as of Wednesday afternoon, some 23,000 customers in Ulster remained without power, down from the peak of about 60,000. He pegged what is called the “global restoration time” — the point when 90 percent would have their electricity back — as Sunday, Sept. 4 at 11 p.m., but added that not everyone would be back in service by then. Maserjian said estimated restoration times for individual communities are posted on the company’s Storm Central map on its website.
Maserjian said repair crews — 80 linemen from Topeka, Kansas have joined the Central Hudson force and 15 more are on their way from Tulsa, Oklahoma — are now entering the part of the restoration process where the most difficult jobs have to be tackled.
Maserjian added that restoring power to the truly remote and most devastated areas might well take longer than a week; he promised the utility would make contact with those residents personally to keep them in the loop.
The utility, Maserjian said, would continue to give out bottled water and as much dry ice as it could get its hands on, but a dry ice shipment it expected didn’t arrive on Wednesday, as dry ice is as hard to come by as spare line crews. “We think we’ve found another source and we think we’ll have a good supply [Thursday],” Maserjian said.
In a response to a reporter’s question as to how people on one side of a street could have power and the other side still be in the dark, Maserjian cited the hidden complexities of the power grid and the varieties of damage the storm inflicted. “Sometimes homes on the same street might be fed off a different circuit, so that means that … maybe there’s damage on that circuit which still needs to be addressed,” he said. “It could be down the line, and not visible to those residents.”
Maserjian said it’s also possible that service lines to individual homes may be damaged. If people without power see everybody surrounding them has power, they should call the utility, he said, so it can sort out the problem.
At a press conference Monday, Central Hudson President Joe Laurito said because of the flooding, the utility will inspect all of the natural gas lines and regulator stations in the area, particularly the ones at river crossings and washed-out roadways.
Flooded farms, trashed roads
Besides roads, bridges, homes and cars, farms have also been slammed, dealing a gut-punch to a $500 million sector of the country economy. Hein said he’s getting help from U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand to get an agricultural disaster area declaration for Ulster. “We are seeing widespread devastation” to farms, Hein said, noting that he saw flooded farms all along the Wallkill River corridor during an aerial inspection of damage on Tuesday.
Hinchey said he is pushing for a visit for U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take a personal look at the situation.
Tea party problem?
Looming as a potential monkey wrench which could be thrown into the works of Ulster’s recovery, Hein and Hinchey said, is the possibility that House Republicans might block adding to FEMA’s coffers. The disaster fund is down to $800 million, and a fight similar to recent ones over the debt ceiling and Federal Aviation Administration Funding may be in the offing, with Republicans indicating they would not OK more FEMA money unless cuts are made elsewhere in the budget. All at the conference agreed that that would be unacceptable. “This is not politics, this is humanitarian,” said Larkin.
“The U.S. Congress has never held up resources needed [in the wake of a natural disaster] and they shouldn’t do so now,” Hinchey said. “We need to overcome these Tea Party operations down there in Washington to get this situation straight.”
Hinchey was in the same boat as a lot of Ulsterites — he’s been without power since last Sunday. He pledged to do everything he could to help, including calling in personnel from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess infrastructure damage and make recommendations for rebuilding and seeking an “emergency supplemental appropriations bill” to help Irene’s victims when he gets back to D.C. next week. “It’s absolutely, critically, important” to get that bill passed, Hinchey said.++
The ice line
And other tales of the storm
“It’s like gold…dry gold…” came a searching voice from a thousand bodies deep in the rapidly expanding line, as the lucky first batch of seekers came away with their treasures: a shoebox-size block of dry ice, steaming in the heat, wrapped in a brown paper bag. You could tell that the voice was unwashed, unshaved, dishes piling up in the sink, toilets flushed oh so sparingly with whatever water could be had. What staples were left in the refrigerators had already plunged their accelerating decline into rot. It was only Monday, not even 24 hours after Irene had tricked us by allowing a couple of hours of calmness, even sunshine, enough time to clear up the some of the yard and assess the damage, before her tail viciously swung around one more time, a parting shot that cracked more trees…a natural thinning of the forest, you might say, unless a ton and a half maple fell on your house or car.
The folks on the line were not the worst off, by any means. We’d all gotten out, after all, and were in Kingston, where the power was on.
We’re at the Central Hudson facility, the old Miron’s on Route 9W in Lake Katrine. One woman said she had stood on line earlier in the day in Rosendale but that the ice had run out before she got hers.
The traffic is horrendous trying to get here, past Adams on 9W, narrowing down to one lane each way, and it’s a half hour to make the quarter mile to the facility. Then there’s no where to park. I manage to sneak into the nearly empty strip mall across the road.
You make friends on the line. Neil Eisenberg is there, I know him. He says he’s still got water, because he’s in the Woodstock district. Dennis Gogg tells of a friend who watched giant pine trees bending and giving in the wind and marveled at how supple they were. “‘I’ve been here 26 years, watching these pine trees sway,’ the guy said,” says Gogg.
Another voice rings out. “Is this where we get the Springsteen tickets?”
Tim and Sue Delaney are there.
“Every time I go into a room, I turn on the light…”
“I went out in the middle of the night and there were no other lights out there. The stars were so clear, it was like being at the planetarium.”
Another voice on passing the time in the dark?
“It’s the most ecologically unfriendly thing you can do, run your car for a half hour to charge your game device. The wind is howling, the rain is pelting and I’m charging my iPad…”
And a commentary on how bad it could have gotten: “I’m just glad we’re not here waiting for rice, or a loaf of bread…”
Woodstock remained relatively unscathed. Relatively, but don’t tell that to the businesses that had to close, the ones where basements flooded and they lost merchandise. On Monday morning, Woodstock Meats was open, Maria’s served coffee for a time. Sunfrost operated by generator power. Most everything else was closed.
Driving around town, you’re stunned by coming upon huge trees, their root balls ripped from the ground and the trees are perched on the electrical wires, and you can’t imagine them staying that way. Many have already crashed to the ground, like the giant pine that closed Plochmann Lane, crashing down across the road right by the corner of Edgewood Lane. The roots of the tree on its side stood eight feet tall.
Now there are still many pockets of homes without power. On my block, no power. On the next block, power. I can look out my back window and see, across my yard and hers, a neighbor with her lights on. I guess that’s not as bad as the guy I talked to this morning, whose power had come on for a couple of hours and then went out again.
In Palenville, the streets are muddy. A few porches that overlook the falls of the Kaaterskill Creek look undermined, ready to go. Some yards are filled with soggy items. People are walking around, headed to the creek to observe the angry, muddy scar that marks a high-water line about a person’s height higher than where it should be. At the Circle W General Store, people are at every seat eating paninis, drinking coffee and comparing notes on the damage their homes have taken on. A giant pine knocked out a pair of skylights at one place, where the waters crept a few hundred feet up through first and a field to lap at their house. Someone else had a creekside cabin move about 20 feet off its foundation. A local contractor walks in with his family and is instantly mobbed, with everyone voicelessly setting up a line, of sorts, so they can all talk to him about projects…and immediate estimates for their insurance companies.
Violet Snow writes:
The floodwaters knocked a slab of rock off the stone wall in front of my house outside of Phoenicia. My neighbor Bud, who built the wall a couple decades ago, said, “That slab weighs 1000 pounds.”
My husband and I happened to be visiting relatives in Brooklyn when the hurricane hit. It did little damage down there, although a huge silver maple on 11th Avenue was toppled by the wind, landing in the empty parking space behind my car.
The electricity stayed on, so I was able to see on the Internet that there was big trouble in Phoenicia. With the power out up here, we couldn’t reach our neighbors until I found someone with a plug-in phone. But the roads were closed on Sunday afternoon, and he was too far away to check on my house.
I live on High Street, across the road from the Esopus Creek. The floodwaters in 2005 had made it into my garage, but this flood sounded even bigger. Sparrow and I visualized our floorboards swollen with water, our computer ruined, our mattresses sodden. Would we have to move out? Could we sell our property, or is it now valueless? Is our double-wide trailer worth renovating, only to flood again?
The trip from the city on Monday entailed several detours due to flooding. The Thruway was said to be closed, so we headed up the east side of the Hudson, but the Saw Mill was also shut. I groped my way to the Taconic on unfamiliar roads.
As we headed across Route 28, it occurred to me that I’d better get gas, since pumps in Olive and Shandaken would not be working in the blackout. Thankfully, the Hess station was open. Route 28 was blocked off at 375, so we headed towards Woodstock, which was fairly quiet, still without power, but there was no sign of damage, unless you count a few tree limbs on the ground.
As I headed out Wittenberg Road, I saw a big willow split in two, a utility pole tilted over the road, drying puddles along the pavement. At Mount Tremper, the Plank Road was blocked off, so I turned onto 212. Along the low-lying confluence of the Beaverkill and the Esopus, I was taken aback by front yards completely covered in what looked like a foot of furrowed, chocolate-colored mud. Children waded through the mud while adults prodded it with shovels, looking discouraged.
I turned onto Route 28, and dust filled the car from dried mud on the highway. A road crew lined the highway bridge, which had been closed earlier, blocked by debris from the water overtopping the bridge. Down the road, a section of railroad tracks curved into the creek, its ties and roadbed washed away.
We were almost home, and our tension was mounting. What would we find?
At the intersection of High Street and Bridge Street, we discovered an assortment of cars. Their drivers were standing on the street to marvel at the rubble-filled ravine — formerly the road — in front of the Bridge Street bridge.
Squeezing past a single sawhorse barrier, I turned down our street. The campsites along the creek had clearly lost some shoreline. Our driveway was lumpy with sand, the tall milkweeds and bee balms in the garden were bowed down to the ground, and the lawn was pebbly and mud-streaked. But the mud line that went up the front steps, crossing the saturated doormat, stopped at the threshold. Our house was dry inside.
Deeply relieved, I took a quick inventory of the property. The house smelled a little funky, probably from mud coating the crawlspace and heating ducts. The bridge across the backyard stream, having survived a trip to the bank of the Esopus in the 2005 flood, was now half-wrecked behind the house next door, caught in a clutter of branches, fencing, a stove, and a wooden gateleg table. Our propane tanks were lying on their sides, and our neighbor had left deep footprints in the mud when he’d gone to turn their valves off.
The bean plants in the garden, however, were not only intact but heavy with ripe beans, despite the collapse of one end of the trellis, and their runners were racing across the deck. The rest of the garden was a wreck, aside from four cucumbers bared for easy picking. My husband’s underwear was still on the clothesline.
The garage looked as if it had been ransacked by mud-dispensing burglars, even though we put most of our boxes up on planks after the 2005 flood. Anything less than three feet up had been tossed to the ground, including a large cedar chest we’d poised on cinder blocks.
I found two small rainbow trout lying on top of the mud in the garage. I rinsed them off so I could admire their iridescent flanks and pink speckles. A live fish was swimming in the big puddle at the end of the driveway. I captured it in a plastic container and placed my hand over the top. It writhed against my palm as I carried it across the road to release it in the creek, which had subsided but was still turbulent. I hope that little fish survived.
Irene left over 1000 Saugertiesians without power (as of Tuesday) and thousands more with a good story to tell.
Take Billy Cochrane. Taking refuge in an old Mercedes because he didn’t like the look of the trees over the house at Opus 40, where he serves as caretaker and handyman, he and his dog, Alberta, got a nasty surprise.
“Wow! A roof landed on me and my dog.”
The roof was from the house owned by Tad and Pat Richards, who have managed the property ever since sculptor Harvey Fite, Tad’s stepfather, died. The Richardses were visiting their daughter in Glasco at the time. Pat and Tad rushed home to find most of the roof lying on top of Cochran’s friend’s Mercedes and the rest in the front yard.
On Monday, Pat Richards vowed that the Opus 40 home, built in stages in the late 1930s and early 1940s, would be repaired.
The village’s reservoir water plant would have flooded out if not for the generosity of Smith Hardware, said water superintendent Joseph Bisignano. The redoubtable Main Street business delivered bags and sand to create sandbags, which protected the building from being lost to the floodwaters coming down off the mountain
Danielle Boisvert and her friend, Travis Buchanan, along with his two kids, Tobias and Nevaeh, fled their Clint Finger Road home as waters began to rise. Later on Sunday they tried to return to their home, but found the road shut by waist-deep waters. They were able to park their car and wade to the home to check on their cats and dogs.
“When we got inside we found eight feet of water in the basement and several feet on the first floor,” Buchanan reported. Boisvert explained, “We’ll be staying at a local motel until we can get back in.”
There’s an alarm sounding in Windham. Yet the streets are filled with people and equipment cleaning everything in sight. The roads are now dirt, newly leveled. What asphalt is visible it’s jumbled, or warped like some odd sculptural project to resemble crumpled paper. Again, there’s a smell of fuel oil in the air… and yet the post office is open, a convenience store, a second floor bar/restaurant filled with people who seem to be in either high spirits, or some level of giddiness. There are several New York Rural Water Association trucks and personnel. I ask a town policeman what the road’s like up ahead and he says you can get to Hunter and Tannersville by crossing the new bridge, rebuilt as part of a new New York City-funded sewer project, then taking several roads across the mountain. Route 296 was gone at one bridge, he added. I asked him what the other towns were like…Ashland and Prattsville. He tells me he hasn’t heard anything about Ashland and then pauses. I look past him to a pile of dirt down Windham’s Main Street, where the school is…and another bridge that’s apparently out. “Prattsville’s toast,” he says.
The next afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo heads up again into the Catskills. He’s first spotted in Margaretville, where he does an interview with the local website, Watershed Post, that ended yup serving as the main aggregator of news for the events of the past week, via its sister WIOX Community Radio station in Roxbury. Earlier, it turns out, he had been in Prattsville alongside the nation’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, and FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate.
“We’ll be partners with you through this,” Napolitano tells a crowd of 60-plus members of the press, most of them national.
Cuomo lists some 600 roads and 22 state bridges wiped out. Which doesn’t take in all the county, town and private bridges I’ve seen washed away.
“These are not communities of deep pockets, these are communities that will need economic help to restore themselves, and we look forward to a partnership with the federal government to help us on this,” Cuomo said. “We’re not just going to rebuild, we’re going to rebuild back better than ever before. We’re going to use this as an opportunity.”++