Irene: Picking up the pieces
As the water pulled back before dawn Tuesday, residents got their first look at Irene’s devastation.
In Esperance, about 20 homes were reduced to nothing but concrete foundations on Priddle Road. Some of the houses that survived were toppled on their sides.
Residents were trying to salvage what they could, but in some cases, everything they owned had been washed away.
Utility poles lay strewn about the remains of the neighborhood that once sat alongside the Schoharie Creek. Furniture and clothing littered the site as some residents tried to piece together what was left of their possessions.
Downstream in Burtonsville, three homes were destroyed on Coyler Road. One was washed away entirely.
In the neighboring towns of Middleburgh and Schoharie, the devastation was omnipresent. Flood waters fl ung parked vehicles, scoured building foundations and pushed uprooted buildings hundreds of feet downstream.
Middleburgh town Supervisor Dennis Richards estimated that his town’s roads alone suffered more than $25 million worth of damage from the hurricane-related flood. But he said that’s a small price to pay for the lack of fatalities.
“Property can be replaced,” he said.
In Schenectady, historic houses that had never flooded were fi lled with more than 4 feet of water. But residents there live within a block of the Mohawk River and have fought floods before. Many had pumped out their basements and were scrubbing mud off their living room floors before city crews arrived to help Tuesday morning.
The sheer amount of water stunned property owners. Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-in restaurant in Scotia was covered to its rooftop with water Monday, and the river left behind a thick layer of mud in the parking lot when it pulled away Tuesday. The iconic fast-food restaurant next to the river is closing early for the season, but will reopen in the spring.
There was some good news as the water receded: the New York State Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek passed inspection, and a hydroelectric dam at Lock 7 was successfully shored up after trucks hauled in tons of stone and dirt all night to stop a small leak.
But inspectors found that the supports for the state Thruway bridge over Route 5S, next to the Schoharie Creek bridge, had eroded away. The earthen supports have been washed away entirely, forcing the state to keep the Thruway closed while the supports are replaced.
Some damage is still hidden by high water. State Canal Corp. engineers began inspecting the locks Tuesday and are still assessing the damage.
“We still have high waters, which makes it diffi cult. We really can’t get at it yet,” spokesman R.W. Groneman said. “It’s going to be days before we know.”
The lock houses at 9, 10 and 11 have been largely destroyed, he said.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo asked President Barack Obama to make an expedited “major disaster” declaration to speed up help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cuomo also organized state agency leaders to coordinate the rebuilding of infrastructure, power restoration, assistance with private insurance and other flood recovery tasks.
“From repairing roads and bridges, getting power back, helping with insurance claims and working with family farms, state government has rapidly mobilized to make sure that all available resources are in place to help the affected areas recover,” Cuomo said.
Very few residents turned to shelters, with most fl ood victims moving in with friends or family. From Plattsburgh to Poughkeepsie, 34 shelters served a total of 630 people, according to the American Red Cross of Northeastern New York. The Red Cross is starting to consolidate shelters now as some residents headed home.
Everywhere, property owners were waiting for insurance adjusters. Insurance agents said the storm has led to the largest number of claims they’ve seen in a long while. Schenectady residents are generally being told that they must wait another two days before an adjuster will get to them.
Many who didn’t get fl ooded are still sitting in the dark. Approximately 28,000 people remained without power Tuesday night. National Grid predicted it would restore power by Thursday for most.
Just after 10 a.m. Tuesday, Schenectady began to get its biggest sewage pump station running at the edge of the Mohawk River. The pumphouse had been fl ooded, knocking out all three pumps inside.
“This is my number one priority right now,” General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen said.