Share this article

print logo

Awash in floodwaters left by Irene As upstate rivers spill over their banks, residents confront aftermath of killer storm

From the mud-caked storefronts of this rural community in Schoharie County to communities across the Catskills, the Adirondacks and into Vermont and Massachusetts, flood-ravaged residents across hundreds of miles were coping Monday with the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

Large portions of interstate highways, bridges and rural roads were still shuttered on a day when beautiful skies stood in sharp contrast to the rainy onslaught that devastated some locations the previous 24 hours.

Two rivers in and around the Albany area topped their banks Monday following a storm that left eight people dead in its wake in New York and 944,000 people without power.

The eight deaths raised the toll along the Eastern Seaboard to 40 as New England dealt with epic floods and millions faced the dispiriting prospect of several days without electricity.

The 11-state death toll, which had stood at 21 as of Sunday night, rose sharply as bodies were pulled from floodwaters and people were electrocuted by downed power lines.

From North Carolina to Maine, communities cleaned up and took stock of the uneven and hard-to-predict costs of a storm that spared the nation's biggest city a nightmare scenario, only to deliver a historic wallop to towns well inland.

In New York City, where people had braced for a disaster movie scene of water swirling around skyscrapers, the subways and buses were up and running again in time for the Monday morning commute. And to the surprise of many New Yorkers, things went pretty smoothly.

But in New England, landlocked Vermont contended with what its governor called the worst flooding in a century. Streams also raged out of control in upstate New York.

In many cases, the moment of maximum danger arrived well after the storm had passed, as rainwater made its way into rivers and streams and turned them into torrents. Irene dumped up to 11 inches of rain on Vermont and more than 13 in parts of New York.

"It's going to take time to recover from a storm of this magnitude," President Obama warned as he promised that the government would do everything in its power to help people get back on their feet.

In Niskayuna, Schenectady County, some residents near the Mohawk River were evacuated as officials feared the collapse of a dam at Lock 7 of the Erie Canal, which is located across the river from a state hydropower plant. Workers could be seen inspecting an area near the dam, almost the entire length of which already had water rushing across its top.

Elsewhere, a bridge over a busy interstate between Albany and Saratoga was shut down for part of the afternoon after a barge broke loose and threatened the twin span.

In Troy, lunchtime crowds watched the Hudson River spill over its banks and flood a popular rib restaurant, nearby parks and low-level streets.

In Schenectady, the community college's buildings were surrounded by water that overflowed from the Mohawk. "It's kind of hard to assess right now. It looks like a total loss," Jennifer Hudson said as she and her husband, relatives, neighbors and even some strangers worked to clean the mud caked onto everything following the nearly 6 feet of water that stormed into their pizza restaurant in Middleburgh.

Mud was speckled across her face while she talked as her husband pointed to the high-water mark on their once-busy restaurant. The culprit: the Schoharie River.

The scene throughout Middleburgh was surreal. The main street was so deep with dirt that a dust cloud filled the streets while National Guard trucks and rescue vehicles worked their way through the community.

Agriculture officials were warning Monday of severe crop destruction and livestock deaths in some areas. In the front yard of one of the pretty old houses that line the river was a single corn stalk that came from a nearby field now nearly leveled from flooding.

"There's a million dollars worth of corn knocked down," Dale Nunamann, the town's highway superintendent said in a brief break from dispatching his vehicles and a half-dozen Army National Guard pieces of equipment to repair some roads ripped up 400 feet across by 20 feet deep in some areas.

"I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen anything like this," he said while standing beside the river, which resembled the Mississippi River-chocolate color from the stirred-up mud.

Nunamann estimated the damage to just the roads in his town at $3 million. But as weary residents along the Schoharie cleaned up, people were still dealing with rising waters in other bodies of water that all eventually end up flowing into the Hudson River.

"We're trying to determine whether to go or stay," Lisa Ellis said as she and a neighbor studied the rising waters of the Mohawk from their houses in Halfmoon.

Upstream from their houses are the Visher Ferry Power Plant and the Lock 7 dam. From the riverbank, giant trees streamed over the top of the dam, as large whirlpools formed and sucked other debris below water. "It'll be the 500-year flood if that dam breaks," said one Halfmoon road crew worker.

Upriver further from Schenectady, Lock 8 of the canal was overrun, as motorists pulled to the side of an interstate to view the water that spread out a mile to engulf a soccer field.

At the Port of Albany, a strange mix of boats was docked. Fuel barges were tied up awaiting the river height to drop and some of the large debris to clear their way 150 miles downstream to the Atlantic Ocean.

Also tied to the long dock were yachts. Friday, a parade of upscale boats was seen making its way to what they thought would be safe havens away from the New York City area and into upstate marinas and tributaries.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, touring the Albany area, acknowledged that the damage had been especially focused in the mid-Hudson and Catskills regions, where entire downtown storefront areas were wiped out.

Cuomo said New York City and Long Island did not reach the high levels of damage that had been predicted. "The exact opposite is true in upstate New York," he said at the Capitol, referring to the record rainfall and flooding that cut across the region.

"The economic damage will be significant," he said.

Effects were being felt in Western New York, including Amtrak's announcement that it is not yet ready to begin service between Niagara Falls and Albany and New York City.

"Mother Nature wins at the end of the day," Cuomo said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment