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New Yorkers clean up, regroup after Irene's wallop

At least six die as a result of storm

August 29, 2011
By MICHAEL GORMLEY , Associated Press

ALBANY - Tropical Storm Irene left stunned upstate New Yorkers shaking their heads Monday at a crippling wallop they never thought possible: Cars and trucks tossed like toys, houses torn from their foundations, trees tumbling down roiling, muddy rivers like matchsticks and roads shredded by raging torrents.

Even high ground wasn't safe from Irene's ripping gusts and bull-charge of rushing water hundreds of miles from its landfall. The scenic Dart Brook in the Adirondacks' high peaks washed away part of the fire house and library in Keene along with barns, bridges and roads.

"We were expecting heavy rains," said Bobbi-Jean Jeun of Clarksville, a rural hamlet near Albany. "We were expecting flooding. We weren't expecting devastation. It looks like somebody set a bomb off."

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The storm was blamed for at least six deaths in the state and 944,000 power outages.

In the Albany suburb of Guilderland, police rescued two people Monday af ter their car was swept away by the Normanskill. They spent three hours calling for help before rescuers found them clinging to trees along the swollen creek.

"We've seen nothing like this," said Albany County Acting Sheriff Craig Apple. "You always try to prepare for the worst, but how do you do that?"

Seven families were surrounded by water in the hill town of Berne near Albany after a small bridge washed out. They were unable to leave their homes Monday.

Buildings that had withstood a century of hard winters and spring floods were carried away, like half an Agway building in Berne, near where "three houses are missing, just carried off," Apple said.

People in Clarksville woke up to devastation in the only hometown most of them have ever known. There was so much to do, it at first seemed futile to even try.

"Then a lot of neighbors just came up and anyone who needed help, they helped," said Jeun.

She was helping her father after a creek t hat's usually dry in summer flooded and wiped out Mill Road, depositing massive boulders on lawns and crinkled sheets of asphalt. A bed frame was stuck in a tree, a telephone pole was crushing her father's pickup truck, and her daughter played in one of the 5-foot deep holes gouged into the ground. Up to a foot of muck blocked garages.

People hauling long power cords attached to generators offered to keep their neighbors' refrigerators running, and started the huge cleanup together.

"It's amazing how silent everyone is. It's like utter awe," said Jeun, 40.

Main Street in the Catskills town of Phoenicia was still covered in red dirt Monday, the day after a local creek jumped its banks and roared through town.

Chris Smith said the water was 3 feet deep on the street, enough to rock telephone poles and send trees and lawn furniture floating off.

"If you tried to cross the street, you would not have made it - the force, you would not believe," he sai d. "It was just chocolate milk and trees and park benches."

To add to the mayhem, a propane tank ruptured and vented a plume of gas after it hit a bridge.

Ulster County Executive Michael Hein called it the worst weather event in the county's history. Dozens of roads around the county remained closed Monday because of downed tree limbs and flooding from torrents of water that in some cases ripped homes from their foundations.

"We have one bridge we literally can't find at this point," Hein said, referring to a steel support span over the Upper Esopus River. "It is now gone."

Hein said the next 48 hours are critical and officials were still advising people to stay off the roads to keep them clear for emergency crews.

In the centuries-old Hudson River city of Troy, a mud slide down a 120-foot slope pulled and twisted a mechanic's garage into the ground Sunday, damaging two homes alongside and threatening others on the edge of the cliff above.

The force of the slide bent the wheel wells of a vehicle at the curb, said city hall spokesman Jeff Pirro on Monday.

"When I was there with press folks after, a smaller landslide occurred," Pirro said. "It was loud - there were trees and branches breaking ... let me put it this way: It was enough for me and five cops to start running like we were in trouble."

Even as some roads were cleared, people in parts of the Adirondacks and Catskills remained isolated with homes, roads, bridges and municipal buildings destroyed or damaged.

In Woodstock, Kris and Jennifer Sylvester of Brooklyn sat on a bench in the town center with all their bags at their feet and their daughters, aged 4 and 9, holding signs that read: "Need a Ride 2 NYC" and "Help Us, No Bus, No Train."

Their long weekend in the country began with an Amtrak ride up, but Irene spoiled their plans to get home.

"So here we are, adorable little children with signs," Jennifer Sylvester said.

After an hour, there were no takers. "We're hoping for anything," she said.

Major roads including two long stretches of the Thruway were closed for Monday's morning rush hour. In some Hudson Valley communities, scores of roads were impassable while in the North Country, the two main routes around Lake Placid were flooded.

Road closures effectively isolated Keene Valley.

A couple of miles down the road from Keene in the tiny hamlet of St. Huberts, about 20 people including guests and workers rode out the violent floods at a rustic hiker's lodge.

Susan Stone of Hopkinton, Mass., was staying at the camp backpacking.

"The force of the water coming off the mountain was incredible," she said. "There was the smell of uprooting and shattering trees and the sound of boulders coming down."

The road in front of the camp was destroyed, leaving chasms and a tumble of boulders and trees where the two-lane highway once passed. That stranded visitors' vehicles. Carrying backpacks and sleeping bags, they marched out to a spot where they could be collected by friends and relatives.

Midday Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials took an aerial tour of flooded communities to start assessing the damage. Authorities were closely monitoring major dams holding back drinking water reservoirs.

"The amount of damage is devastating in some areas and will get worse before it gets better," Cuomo said.

Monday afternoon, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection lifted an emergency plan in place at the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County when water began to recede. It declared the dam structurally sound.

The Pepacton reservoir in hard hit Delaware County was spilling early Monday morning and people who live below it were encouraged - but not ordered - to leave for a while. As of Monday afternoon, emergency services spokesman Dean Frazier said it appeared the Pepacton was receding.

The forecast for flooding on the Mohawk River eased Monday morning at Schenectady. Meanwhile, 150 Montgomery County residents were forced from their homes by flooding on the Schoharie Creek. Nine bridges were destroyed in Schoharie County and 40 roads were closed. Several hundred people were in shelters.

As of Monday afternoon, about 800,000 people were still without power and it could be next week before some get their lights back.

George and Linda Blank live on the Esopus Creek at their Phoenicia Black Bear Campground, where the creek ran right through their house and campground, scattering camper vans willy-nilly in the squishy mud.

Their pickup landed askew in front of the house and the muddy waters lapped at their inside staircase.

"Look at the bedroom. The mud was all the way up to the top of the bed. It's so sad," Linda Blank said. "We lost our busiest holiday and we lost September and October, which is leaf peeping season in th e Catskills."

"Everything's gone, everything's shot," George Blank said, while holding onto the goal of opening for Labor Day. "They won't beat us."


Associated Press writers Mary Esch, Michael Hill, George M. Walsh and editor Rik Stevens contributed to this report.



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