Perhaps the single residential area hardest hit by Tropical Storm Irene is Factory Street. Across the Mettowee River from the Slate Valley Museum the residents of the street and the spur off of its end, Rathbun Avenue, all had some measure of damage when the storm dropped six inches of rain bringing the river to crest on the western side street filling basements with water and residue.
Karen Rollwagon is all alone.
Living in the house where she grew up, Rollwagon said she takes care of her 93-year-old father and it is just the two of them in the house.
Like so many of her neighbors, Rollwagon has a basement full of a mixture of mud, water, silt and what used to be some of her household belongings. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Rollwagon said after listing the storm damage to the small property.
Unlike her neighbors, Rollwagon has no external access to her basement – everything that has to come out from under the house has to come up the stairs and out the door.
“I’ve got bad knees and a bad back, I can’t do that,” she said. So Rollwagon said she was waiting and hoping for some help.
Recalling the flood waters of a youth spent living in the same house, Rollwagon said she had never seen anything like it.
During the winter, she recalled dodging ice bergs from the river when the river pushed them up into the back yard. She could point to a place down the yard where the flood waters from a “bad” year would stop.
Don and Hilda Viger have lived on Factory Street for more than four decades raising kids and watching grandkids run around their yard.
If it wasn’t for that family, the Viger’s said they don’t know what they would do with a clean up job too massive for the pair of retirees.
As the floodwaters pulled back from lapping at the floor joist of the first floor of their home, the couple said something echoed by neighbors up and down the street: it could have been worse; somehow it could have been worse.
Even as he looked over the remains of his wintertime hobby collection, paint brushes, wood burning materials and wood working tools worth thousands of dollars and collected over a number of years, Viger was trying to look on the bright side. “We’re going to clean some of this up and see if it works or not,” he said. Already gone from the garage was Viger’s prized Volkswagen Bug.
The project car he’d been working on left the garage on a flatbed truck, sold for scrap after being totaled from water damage.
Surveying the items that might be saved from a compressor to a gas grill, Viger stopped to watch as yet another barrel of debris came out of the basement.
It was a simple almost reflexive gesture, take food to someone having a tough time. But it was a gesture as welcome as the end of the rain that caused all of the trouble in the first place.
Tuesday evening as the flood waters receded, residents of Factory Street and Rathbun Avenue had just begun to clean up after Tropical Storm Irene, a small group of residents got together to buy dinner for the rest of the street.
The residents, who asked not to be named, said they did so to help out their neighbors; they didn’t do it for any recognition. Away at work all day, they were not able to help clean out muddy basements or garages, but they wanted to do something – so they ordered pizza.
“We didn’t get it that bad and we didn’t know what else to do,” one of the residents said. He described an inch or two of water that eventually just sunk back into the dirt of the basement; nothing was damaged, no property was lost.
So they came by ones and twos to the invitation to eat pizza and have a soda, often covered in mud or dusty from dried mud, pulling off rubber gloves and wiping off their faces with moistened towelettes.
Some sat down, to take a load off and some stood, but they all stopped to get something to eat, some for the first time that day.
The clean up was by no means finished, but the load was lightened for many with the task of planning a meal taken off their all too long ‘to do’ lists if just for one night.