2012-08-22 / Perspectives

Irene: One Year Later

By Annie Chesnut

At this time last year, we were enjoying the waning days of summer, unaware of what was about to befall our region.

Yes, we’d had reports that bad weather was coming. But no one really knew how dramatic the damage would be in western Putnam County once Hurricane Irene and then Tropical Storm Lee unleashed their fury.

We found out soon enough, and the results were devastating. This turned out to be the most significant storm in decades.

On Sunday, August 28, PCNR.com filed this update:

According to Sheriff Don Smith, the worst water situation in Putnam currently is on Route 301 in the Glynwood area, where many people are being evacuated, the dam is in jeopardy and waters are raging.

Meanwhile, in Cold Spring, flooding is the biggest problem, according to deputy mayor Bruce Campbell. Water is up to the stoops of the townhomes near the Hudson River...and some basements have 3 to 5 feet of water.

Later we wrote: Cold Spring townhome owners with views of the Hudson River were forced to evacuate, along with scores of others living on lower Main and West Streets in Cold Spring, when Hurricane Irene powered the Hudson River past familiar boundaries. The water flooded streets, private yards, and basements, in some areas with up to 4 feet of water.

In Philipstown the biggest culprit was the water itself, tearing down the Route 301 canyon and forcing a dramatic rope-across-the-deluge rescue of homeowners in its path. Road closures, bridge washouts, and power outages were rife. It may or may not have been a direct result of the hurricane, but the closure of the historic Bird and Bottle Inn in Garrison came not long after the building and property were badly flooded by overflow water from a neighboring creek.

In Putnam Valley, it was extended power outages that caused the most heartache for homeowners, with NY State Electric and Gas being blamed both for the length and quality of its response. A posthurricane Town Board meeting brought a packed house of unhappy citizens to Town Hall.

In some cases, the cleanup continues.

The PCN&R spoke with the two town supervisors to hear their retrospective assessments.

Supervisor Richard Shea

Shea said he was impressed by how well the entire Town responded. Philipstown’s “super” Highway Department and all the emergency services “put their lives on the line, with 99 percent of the Town saying, ‘We’re going to get through this, we’re not going to complain.’ We have dirt roads here. We know they’re going to disappear.”

And as for Central Hudson? “They were here, and they’re still here working.”

“My take on this is how well we did. Senator Schumer was here within days with the regional director of FEMA. We knew it was going to be a long process, but I couldn’t be more proud of the way the Town stepped up.”

Shea noted, “People need to get prepared at home. The most important thing is being able to shelter in place.”

Since the hurricane, there is a new generator at the Rec Center, and the Town is working much more closely with the Red Cross.

One road that is not on the list of FEMA-funded projects is Walmer Lane, the private road that suffered a bridge wash-out at the hands of Irene. “I’m going to meet with them [the residents] in September… the bridge is still sitting in the water,” and the Town cannot perform the work needed to remove the concrete from Clove Creek, although residents likely could.

Supervisor Bob Tendy

“We did quite well.” There was a lot of road damage, which fell to the Highway Department to address, Tendy said. As for FEMA funding, Tendy said that was all handled through Highway, but “I think we got the bulk of what we were getting.”

As for the Town’s key utility, NYSEG, Tendy maintained that “for NYSEG, the biggest issue from the standpoint of Putnam Valley is that trees fall down.” He recommends a “a common-sense approach to the problem”—clearing away trees that are hanging over electrical wires. Unfortunately, Tendy added, “NYSEG is shy about cutting because they take so much heat for it,” which is similar to the position that Central Hudson is in, in Philipstown.

Is Putnam Valley better prepared for this year’s hurricane season than it was last year? Certainly he said, “We’re more educated.” The Putnam Valley Senior Center was wall staffed last year with Red Cross volunteers from as far away as the West Coast, offering meals, bottled water, cots, and showers to people in need—particularly those with ongoing power outages at home.

Like the Rec Department in Philipstown, Putnam Valley Town Hall has a new emergency generator, which will facilitate communication. “If Town Hall is up and running we can communicate better” with the community, he said. Both Putnam Valley and Philipstown encouraged residents to participate in NY-Alert (www.nyalert.gov/) the free statewide emergency notification system that offers multiple levels of notification via multiple media, and offered quite detailed information on how to enroll and use the program.

The one thing both Towns agree on is the heart and courage of their emergency responders. In Philipstown responders received awards based on the 301 water rescue, and there seems to be an increased sense of cooperation between all of the area responders who faced the worst that nature could dish out.

Photographs and Memories

PCN&R readers and staff collected hundreds of storm photos one year ago. Among the hardest his areas of Philipstown were the Cold Spring waterfront (top photos) and Route 9 and its environs (center photos). The washed-out Walmer Lane bridge, which remains unrepaired, is shown at the bottom right.

Know Your Weather

Hurricane - A tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind speed is 74 mph or more. The term hurricane is used for Northern Hemisphere tropical cyclones east of the International Dateline to the Greenwich Meridian. The term typhoon is used for Pacific tropical cyclones north of the Equator west of the International Dateline. Tropical Storm - A tropical cyclone in which the maximum sustained surface wind speed ranges from 39 mph to 73 mph. Source: nhc.noaa.gov

Hurricane Watch - Hurricane conditions are a threat within 48 hours. Review your hurricane plans. Get ready to act if a warning is issued, and stay informed. Hurricane Warning - Hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Complete your storm preparations and leave the area if directed to do so by authorities. Source: redcross.org

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