SCHOHARIE - Launa Garrett was wearing a floppy jester's hat and playfully directing traffic in her town, still smeared in mud and devastation as the first week of life after Tropical Storm Irene drew to a close.
"I wear it to keep from crying," said Garrett, 58, as she continued to help neighbors bring mud-caked furniture to the curb. Like most people here, she's driving 20 or 30 miles each night to stay with friends and relatives.
As with many survivors, frustration is building.
Four days after Irene hit, much of this quaint village older than the United States remained without power. The main gas station and convenience has already been leveled. Shacks were carried a block away and smashed into homes, some with heating oil and dead fish in their basements. Corn rotted in 2 feet of water.
Deborah Clapper, owner of the Glass Bar on Main Street, said life has gotten harder in the village since the storm.
"Every time you get one thing done it seems like there are 10 others to figure out," said Clapper, 49, standing outside the darkened bar with some regulars. She spent Monday, her birthday, and Tuesday, her 25th anniversary, trying to dig out.
Recovery is expected to take months.
Streets were lined with sopping, muddy mattresses, couches, and carpets. A sign scrawled on poster board outside an office stated: "Claim info here." Outside the Presbyterian Church, muddy Bibles, hymnals, and children's books of "Noah's Ark" were piled up next to an American flag. Businesses were locked and dark. Ledger books were in bags on slippery sidewalks for the nightly pickup by garbage trucks, after the 7 p.m. curfew.
Seventy-five boxes of back-to-school supplies recently collected for children hit by natural disasters worldwide were ruined. Now the church is seeking supplies for its children.
Grim faces worked wordlessly outside impeccably restored bed and breakfast inns and meticulously preserved family homesteads. Water gushed from a cellar as it was pumped out. Late Thursday afternoon, warm beer served under an electric light at the Parrott House inn prompted celebration.
Reviews are mixed on how state and federal officials have done following the storm that cost 10 lives and nearly $1 billion in damages including 600 homes and 140,000 acres of farmland. Some residents say they've gotten contradictory directions and expected more help and cash to recover even just days after the storm. Others faithfully cling to promises for more help.
Until then, these Schoharie County residents, like those in the Catskills, Adirondacks and Hudson Valley, are relying most on each other through moments alternately heartening and heart wrenching.
"Everyone just pulled together," said Garrett, whose dinner this week was canned Army rations. "That's what we do."
Last Monday, a man who didn't give his name drove through handing out $50 bills for gas and food. On Tuesday, another anonymous man did the same with $20 bills. Freshmen at the nearby State University of New York at Cobleskill filled their pickup with jugs of drinking water.
Neighbors spend their days pushing floor squeegees to scrape mud as generators thump away.
"I took the week off from work to do this," said Michelle Condon, 38, of Rotterdam, 20 miles north, as she helped a friend. "For as long as it takes."
On Wednesday in Greene County's Prattsville, state and federal officials promised relief.
Federal Emergency Ma-nagement Agency Administra-tor Craig Fugate promised to "bring all the federal resources to bear that we need to support this community."
And Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: "These are communities that will need economic help to restore themselves. We're not just going rebuild, we are going to rebuild back better than ever before."
People like Carolyn Bennett, 61, drenched in sweat and mud, just kept working after the press conference.
"This is absolutely the worst in memory," said Bennett, director of The Zadock Pratt Museum, trying to save 5,000 letters from settlers, 200-year-old documents and more artifacts.
Some people worry about FEMA having less than $800 million left for relief to serve the entire Eastern Seaboard.
"We are all left to fend for ourselves," said Erik Goodrich, a Schoharie native, who at 32 years old owns a pizza place, liquor store and a commercial building for five more businesses in his hometown. He rejected a government business loan because of its interest rate.
"You are looking at a ghost town," he said. "It's discouraging. We're in day four? Day five now? Today we're slowing down because we're getting more discouraged ... we're not cleaning, we're gutting."
Cuomo has already secured an expedited declaration of New York as a major disaster, which hastens relief. FEMA said the top grant is $30,200 while the average housing grant is $3,900 and the average "other needs" assistance is $1,500. A victim can get cash in less than a week. Federal Housing and Urban Development will offer more aid later. On Friday, Cuomo again wouldn't say where state money could come from, but said the funds will be found.
In Schoharie, residents contemplate losses they put between $30,000 and $100,000.
Flood damage has been excluded from standard homeowners' policies for decades, said Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Insti-tute, a nonprofit consumer organization funded by the industry. Flood damage is mostly covered under a policy that can be purchased under a federal program, but few people buy it.
Garrett, in her jester hat, said despite frustrations time has at least given her perspective.
"The first day it was, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" look at all the stuff we lost," she said Thursday evening. "By today I said, 'Oh my God, how awful we are that we have this much to lose and we'll still be OK.' That was the kicker to me. All this stuff in this village ... everybody is going to be OK eventually."