Monday, August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene

I originally wrote my last post concerned to be admitting to the world that I was a worry wart. The local news stations assured us that Hurricane Irene would be nothing more than a strong storm, and we should expect some power outages. I wanted to prepare for the worst, and yet never could we have prepared for what actually occurred.

Let me first say that my family, Johnny and I are all safe and healthy. It has been a very scary 48 hours, but knowing that everyone is safe is a light at the end of a very long tunnel. The storm started to hit our area around 8am Sunday morning. The wind was steady and the rain fell continuously for hours. Johnny and I sat amazed watching at how long and how hard the rain was falling. I had anticipated that once the storm kicked up that power would be lost at my parents’ house and they would lose phone services. They live in Schoharie Valley, a nearby rural area about 30 minutes from Johnny and I. We spent our morning watching movies, and checking in on the weather channel, and local news stations. Around 11am, I heard that they were evacuating all of Schoharie. With this my ears perked up. I knew immediately that all of this rain must be affecting the Schoharie creek, but How can they be evacuating the town in this storm? How would my family know? Why are they evacuating? Calls to my parent’s phones were pointless (though I tried over and over). Soon I was logged on to the Schoharie County Emergency Services facebook page and searching for all of the information that I could find. They were evacuating my parent’s entire county, town by town. Soon stories were coming through about bridges being washed away, homes being destroyed and roads being swept away in rushing water. Around 2pm new of the Gilboa Dam reached the local news. The Gilboa Dam houses all of the water supply for New York City, and is located in the same county as my parents. The dam's siren had been going off all morning, alerting everyone in the county to evacuate. The dam could break at any moment, and if it did, it would wash away an estimated 30,000 people. Phone lines were gone, power was out, and I could do nothing but sit and watch the events unfold on facebook. I prayed that my family had made it to an evacuation shelter, but shortly learned that they were evacuating the evacuation locations. No-where was deemed safe. I paced in front of our kitchen window. I prayed my family would pull into our driveway with tales of spending hours trying to get out. Anything to get them out.

Schoharie Valley- Hurrican Irene 2011
( various images all taken around the county)

At 6pm I finally heard from my mother. I had waited all day to hear her voice say, ' We're sitting on cots in a local school', but instead she said, " Don't worry. It's okay the water is receding". My family hadn't been able to get out. In fact they had tried. Early Sunday morning, they watched as the local creek water rose, and knew they needed to leave. My parents jumped in the car ( with my brother, our dog and chinchilla) and started the journey to Johnny and my house. Every road they attempted was met with obstacles. Bridges had disappeared, trees had now replaced roads and in some cases roads were completely submerged. My family was stranded. They made their way back to the house and found that the neighbors also stuck. Their efforts started immediately. My parents’ house sits just a bit higher up than the others in their row, so they moved all cars to their driveway, and all of the neighbors gathered at their house. They set up camp and there my family sat for most of the day with 8 other neighbors. We got lucky. The creek overflowed, flooding across the street and rushing into the neighbor’s houses, but it only surrounded ours never actually touching the house. Damage has been done, but not like our neighbors. Safe and dry inside, they sat together while our neighbors and friends could do nothing else but watch as their sheds floated rapidly past the windows. One of the houses across the way caught on fire and with-in minutes was up in flames. All they could do was sit idly by watching a friends life evaporate into the air, knowing that he had evacuated hours before and had no idea of the events unfolding. Everyone was safe though, and houses and sheds can be replaced. Lives can not.

Schoharie Valley- Hurricane Irene 2011
( on the right: the road leading into Main st.)

Once I had received word from my family I could breathe a little easier, but the worrying doesn't stop. My mother called back first thing this morning to let me know that they were trapped. The water had receded, and they could now see that the roads were completely impassable. What I couldn't tell her at that time was that I had been watching closely the news coming out of the county. My parents still had a road and that was more than most other people in their town. The National Guard had spent the day most of Sunday rescuing people from their roofs. Business’ washed away down stream along with the oldest covered bridge in New York State. Schoharie is a proud rural community, and many of the farmers lost their livestock to the water. There were hundreds of people in evacuation shelters, and currently no way to get in or out of the county. Knowing that my family was okay meant that I could finally cry for our town. Sadly ironic I had spent Friday afternoon in a business meeting with a restaurant located in Schoharie. We had discussed their fall menu, and their plans for storm preparation. A generator was brought in so they could keep their coolers running, and now I knew they likely had no cooler left to run. All of those crops were gone, all of those livelihoods destroyed. It would take months to repair was Irene took away in hours.

Schoharie Valley- Hurricane Irene 2011
( The Schoharie Valley, after the rain stopped)

After speaking to my mother I was able to start the family chain. I would be my parent’s only contact point until they could be rescued so I started my updating calls to all of our friends and family. As video was coming out of the valley of the storm, it was being aired on every news station and I was starting to get the frantic calls. ( by the way, frantic calls don't make things better when people are trying to take care of serious situations) I spoke to emergency services to alert them of the stranded people ( at this point there was about 20 people including my family in the neighborhood row that were stuck on their street) and they politely told me to get in line. I didn't hope for much more, but I wanted them to be put on the list. The kind lady told me to keep calling back for updates, they would provide me with all of the information they could but it would likely take days before any of my family could be rescued. Miraculously, my parents showed up at our door a few hours later. Once the roads had started to dry up, they were able to find a way through. They loaded up on supplies, and headed back into Schoharie, ready to help the cleanup begin.

Schoharie County was one of the hardest hit, but many other places are suffering severe damages as well. While the storm ended late Sunday night, on Monday evening they were still issuing evacuations. All of our rivers and creeks are overflowing, and the danger won’t have passed for a few more days. Johnny and I’s house was left un-damaged, but a large tree fell on power lines behind us, and a transformer caught on fire on the street in front of us. It will be days before our power is restored. In a matter of hours, my placing candles in each room and stocking up on extra non-perishable items seemed silly. There is no proper way to prepare for this. We had expected power outages, we all had. Everyone had expected high winds, and people in all of the surrounding towns and counties spend Saturday taking items off their porches, shutting windows, making sure everything would be okay in high winds. What no-body can prepare you for is extreme flooding. My sister in North Carolina was evacuated on Friday, and I know over 350,000 people were evacuated from New York City on Saturday. It seems no-one could predict that the rest of New York would be so severely effected by the storm.

Slingerlands- Hurrican Irene 2011
( My street, and the reason power will be out for days)

The most amazing thing, is how strong our communities has been. The support coming from with-in has been never ending. Messages of hope and information have been strewn everywhere online. Pleads for information have been met by strangers.. It will be weeks before our area will be returned to ‘normal’ and months before Schoharie County can be brought back to a functioning community. Things for now are day by day. We wait for our power to come on. We do everything we can to get extra blankets and diapers to the displaced victims and we hug our family a little closer. And all in the meantime I’ll probably wear a t-shirt and jeans. I’m going to finish the 21 day challenge, but I think I need to do it when the time is right, when the fear has passed and when I can breathe a little easier again. Let us all take a lesson from the weather channel, Weather Conditions are serious business.

Video from ABC News, showing the nearby Catskill towns


Tiffany said...

Oh my goodness, this gave me chills! It's exactly how we felt with my family in New Orleans during Katrina. I'm glad you're safe. I'll be praying for y'all!

Between Laundry Days said...

It has taken me forever to comment on this post, but I've been thinking about it ever since you posted it. The devastation is heartbreaking, and I'm so glad you and your loved ones are safe.