On Aug. 28, when Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, I felt comfortable in leaving the campground we were staying at in Union Falls and going home to write my weekly column, which I always send on Sunday each week.
When I left it was lightly raining and winds were gusty. I was almost to Taylor Pond when I came upon a downed tree making it impossible to continue to AuSable. I turned around and headed back to the campground. My husband and I decided we would stay put as long as we did not lose power, but if we did, we would find an alternate route home.
We did not lose power and believe it or not despite heavy rain and gusty winds we thought the conditions were not as bad as we had feared they would be. Therefore we stayed. A few hours later we were notified by our neighbor that our entire neighborhood was being evacuated and a shelter had been set up at the Community Center located across the road from our residence.
Our neighbor stated the river was rising quickly and your truck is there and water is hitting the tires at this time. Since the two keyholders to our home were both out of town it was impossible to move the truck, so I just prayed the water would start to recede quickly but that was not to be. Our neighbor kept calling us with updates of the rising water and how at some point later on even Main Street had been flooded by the raging waters from both the east and west branches.
I saw a video later my nephew has that showed knee-deep water surging through our Main Street. Our night continued to be more stressful as we learned water had flooded our entire street and our truck had water to the doors and water was flooding our deck. We were helpless so we contacted the Fire Department to ask what the status was at that time (early morning) and were told you need to stay where you are, your house is surrounded by water and no traffic is allowed on your street.
I learned later the water was approaching the Community Center steps and plans were underway to move those at the shelter to the second floor. Thank God the water receded before that step was necessary. Although we could not sleep we decided to wait till daylight to try and get home to survey our damage. Our neighbor contacted us at first light to tell us our first floor was flooded and our garage and storage shed along with our truck were badly damaged.
After contacting the Highway Department to be sure the downed tree had been removed, we headed for home. When we arrived intown nothing could prepare us for the devestation our Town had suffered. We immediately found out how much planning our wonderful supervisor had done to aid all of the residents. In order to cross the bridge coming in to town an escort was needed because it was declared unsafe to traffic. We finally proceded through Main Street and when we turned down School Lane and on to Woodyard Lane nothing could prepare us for the condition of our home and neighborhood.
Tree branches, rocks, wood, and more were in everyone’s yard. Two large holes appeared in the road on Woodyard Lane. We proceded into our home to be met by an overwhelming scent of fuel oil. We soon learned our entire basement had flooded, fuel oil tank had overturned and water had risen through the rafters and on through our first floor. This was what most residents were dealing with some worse than others.
Until residences were inspected most were uninhabitable for the time being. Our floors were filled with water and fuel oil. Upon further investigation we found how many homes had been hit. The people in “Jersey Section” that had been flooded previously were again suffering so much loss, some for the third time. All residences in lower Burt, Broad and Sheldrake Road were hit hard. I later learned two Jersey residents were evacuated by boat and barely made it out before the boat was swept away and found later downstream.
Jersey Bridge was also impassable to traffic so I could not actually see the exact damage till much later. I also learned a resident of Route 9N was rescued with his dog from the roof of his house as water had risen so quickly. There was heartbreak and devestation everywhere in our entire community. Stickney Bridge was also impassable and Route 9N was also damaged badly as was Dr. Sue’s Veternairy business along with others. The Drake residence on Route 9N has a huge concrete wall and each flood is marked with the date. It is hard to believe living that far from the river and so high up that damage could be so great. When you travel that road you must look at that wall to believe where Irene left her mark. Carnes Granite Shed was left barely standing and appears to be ready to topple over. I later learned how much damage was also in Jay, Upper Jay and their surrounding communities. John and I were flabbergasted to know we had lived here 37 years and never had any problems with the river, so therefore, never felt the need for flood insurance and so many others affected shared that same feeling. Everyone affected felt the same where do we start and that is where our wonderful leader Randy Douglas began steering us all who were in so much shock in the right direction.
Words cannot describe the dedication and determination Randy gave this entire community to assist them in any way he possibly could to find the resources and find them he did. He worked practically around the clock with very little sleep to pursue every avenue available to get everyone on the road to rebuilding their homes and lives. Randy and his very dedicated staff, our very dedicated Highway Deptartment under the leadership of Chris Garrow who all functioned around the clock with very little sleep, our wonderful Fire Department and Auxiliary along with so many departments who stood by us in our time of need.
Volunteers too numerous to name them all for fear of forgetting someone, businesses and individuals who came to the assistance of so many of us in our time of need, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and members of Congress who surveyed our damage and stepped up to ask for assistance for everyone after viewing the unbelievable damage.
Part II of my article will tell the story of just what was made available to all of us suffering from Irene’s destruction. Words cannot express our gratitude to everyone who joined Randy in helping us through this ordeal.
If any reader has anything they would like to add to my next article please free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me at 647-8828. I welcome everyone’s input.
Deanna Santor lives in AuSable Forks and writes the column “Around AuSable” for
the Lake Placid News