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Irene: Sorrow, loss in old villages along Schoharie

Wednesday, August 31, 2011
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Residents clear mud from inside Wayman's Furniture along Main St. on Tuesday afternoon.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Residents clear mud from inside Wayman's Furniture along Main St. on Tuesday afternoon.

— With a rush of churning brown water, the vitality of both Middleburgh and Schoharie were put in jeopardy.

Floodwater pushed over the banks of the Schoharie Creek and quickly spread across the two villages Sunday. Within moments, scores of businesses and residences were submerged in a nearly 6-foot-deep toxic cocktail of spilled fuel, rain swollen river water and mud.

Windows buckled. The rushing Schoharie scoured away building foundations, ripped up pavement and tossed vehicles.

On the outlying farms, entire crops were either tainted or washed away. Debris and drowned livestock were carried along the current’s mile-wide path of destruction through the Schoharie Valley.

The resulting landscape is stark, almost post-apocalyptic in places. Passing vehicles churned up dense clouds of dust through downtown Middleburgh, the village’s roads heavily caked with fine silt from the floodwaters, which spread all the way up to the top steps of the high school before receding Monday.

By Tuesday, towering piles of debris lined Main Street as despondent business owners began to dig out. For many of them, there’s nothing else to do but haul their shattered wares to the curb and scrub away the filthy residue of Hurricane Irene as best they can.

At the Conglomerate, a gift and candy shop on Main Street, owner Patty Eddy-Beal tries to pull together what remains of her stock. Most of it is stacked in a muddy pile out front of the historic building she owns with her husband Rich.

A log carried on the rushing current sits on the floor a few feet away from where it crashed through the glass-paned front door. Stained clothing hangs from wall racks.

“We prepared for a flood that would give us about 2 feet, and it was 5 feet,” Eddy-Beal said.

Progress lost

After more than a day, she and a dedicated crew of volunteers had almost cleared the mud from the floors, the first step of many along the path of reopening. The floors and walls in one room will need to be replaced, as will the two antique counters. For Eddy-Beal, the work ahead seems almost herculean.

“We worked hard to make this village nice, so it’s devastating,” she lamented. “You feel like you have to start over again, and I don’t know how many of us have the means to do that.”

About a block closer to the creek at Wayman’s Furniture Store, workers used an ATV outfitted with a snowplow to push the immense buildup of silt from the 5,000-square-foot store. Nearly 6-foot-high piles of ruined furniture sat in the storefront and on the side of the building, visible from the Main Street bridge over the Schoharie.

Like others living and working in the Schoharie Valley, the Wayman family have seen their fair share of floods. They neatly stacked the store’s inventory on tables, hoping the creek would only deposit a foot of water into the store. Instead, they got more than 5 feet of water. And when it receded, it left roughly 8 inches of foul-smelling silt.

“We’ve never seen this kind of devastation,” said Robert Wayman, whose parents own the business. “This is unprecedented.”

Parishioners at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church had nearly cleaned the early-19th century sanctuary of the silt. But the next-door parsonage remained devastated.

Church Council President Diane France suspected the building would be condemned, since a spilled oil tank had contaminated the basement. The stench of fuel lingered heavy inside the ruined building.

“Middleburgh has come so far,” she said. “And then to have this happen.”

Middleburgh Supervisor Dennis Richards remains convinced the community will rebound. Yet he stressed the town won’t be able to do it alone.

“We’re going to need federal money,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can do, but we’re going to need help.”

Schoharie plight

Further downstream, the town and village of Schoharie were equally devastated. Officers with the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department closed the entire village to everything except for local traffic in an effort to let the cleanup begin.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens toured the devastation Tuesday, where floodwaters tipped over two massive fuel storage tanks at Ottman & Enders on Main Street. Tens of thousands of gallons of fuel spilled from the tanks, and state officials aren’t sure how much discharged into the creek.

Many of the historic Victorian homes on Main Street in the village bore signs of damage. Porch columns were washed away on one home, while the front steps were missing on another.

A canoe was bent around a utility pole near the NBT Bank. The county office building remained closed, a dirty mark denoted the high water level of more than 5 feet up the side door of the building facing Spring Street.

Many homes near the Schoharie Creek basin were tagged. An orange one if the occupants had been evacuated and a green one indicating structural damage.

The Schoharie Creek crossing on Bridge Street was badly scoured by the surging debris and closed to all traffic. Pavement was ripped off and carried onto nearby lawns.

Neighbors Annie Young and Jane Dano sat outside their ruined homes in disbelief. Both had survived floods before, but neither could envision this.

“Nobody realizes when that weather comes through, how bad it is,” Young said.

The rear porch on Young’s house was swept away, as was a large patch of her home’s siding. A chest freezer in Dano’s garage was lifted out and tossed into cluster of trees more than 200 feet across the street.

Inside the homes, the flood left more than an inch of mud. Their belongings were strewn in haphazard piles.

Both wanted to start the cleanup. But their insurance providers implored them to wait until federal officials could inspect to gauge their eligibility for aid.

Neither expects to save much from the ruined homes. Young suspected she’ll have to rebuild from the ground up.

“There’s nothing left,” she said. “You can’t save it.”

 
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