Stories after the storm: A year after Irene, it’s back to normal for most, not all

T he memories are a full year old now, but for those who watched what Tropical Storm Irene did to Granville on Aug. 28, 2011, and in the days afterward, they remain vivid and painful.

“It was surreal,” said Matt Zappone, general manager at Zappone Chrysler Jeep Dodge, which lost 140 cars and trucks to massive flooding and could not reopen for 54 days. “We were standing there, waist-deep in water, and we could see the headlights going off underwater and the airbags popping because of the pressure.

“To this day, the thought of that sight … it was the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen.”

Town Supervisor Matt Hicks and village Mayor Brian LaRose were carefully monitoring the storm but still could not imagine just what it would do to Granville.

“Everything was linear, progressing, until mid to late afternoon, then it just exploded,” Hicks said. “I was at Subway, and it was creeping, creeping, creeping, then it exploded and the water came so fast and so hard.”

For Kate Weller, the director of the Slate Valley Museum, which sits hard by a band in the Mettowee River, the tears didn’t come until days later, when the underlying damage became apparent.

“At first it seemed OK, just some water on the floor,” Weller said of the initial assessment. “The water was high around the building, but it not much of it got in.”

That proved to not matter.

“Then we ripped the walls apart and saw just how bad the damage was,” she added. “It was just awful, and at times, we didn’t know where the money was going to come from.”

Many others can tell similar stories, and all remember the days and hours leading up to the flood.

 

Tracking the storm

The disturbance that would become Hurricane Irene was first tagged on Aug. 15, in the Atlantic Ocean.

It was classified as a hurricane on Aug. 22 just after hitting Puerto Rico, the first hurricane of the season. A day later, it was upgraded to a Category 3 storm as it moved through the Bahamas, then downgraded to Category 1 as it approached the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It dropped to a tropical storm, then made landfall again on the New Jersey shore and in New York City.

The hurricane turned north Saturday evening and had “weakened” to a tropical storm as it moved into upstate New York, then turned across Vermont. One of its first impacts was sending the crowds as the Washington County Fair home a day early, but it wasn’t until well into Sunday afternoon that it really started to hit. In New York, Schoharie County was badly damaged, even more than Granville, and a number of towns in the Hudson River Valley were also badly damaged.

In Washington County, Salem and Granville took the brunt of the storm.

Damage grew even worse as the storm moved into Vermont, destroying houses, roads and bridges and even leaving some towns stranded. Many roads were not repaired until well into this year, and some people have yet to return to their homes.

The damage was made worse by a summer that had, at times, included more rain than usual, and the swiftness of the rise of the rivers left little time for response. Emergency crews in Granville had to rescue a woman from her car after it was sucked into the river and had to use boats to go house to house to rescue some neighbors.

The area at Moore’s Corners, at the intersection of routes 149 and 22, was under four feet of water and all the businesses in the area were closed. The Mettowee River also jumped its banks near Church Street, flooding the town park, the Slate Valley Museum and the well fields.

Nearby Vermont towns such as Pawlet and Poultney took some serious hits, but the damaged worsened as the storm moved north and east.

In the end, Irene’s wind and water killed 56 people and caused $15.6 billion in damage, making it the fifth-costliest storm in U.S. history.

 

Making a recovery

Local, state and federal officials moved in quickly over the next few days. The families along hard-hit Factory Street and its neighboring areas received multiple visits from LaRose, Hicks and state Sen. Betty Little.

The Moore’s Corners tractor dealership was able to reopen quickly, as was Glens Falls National Bank. It took into October, before the McDonald’s and Subway were reopened, but Chapman’s Store, along the river in Middle Granville, was able to recover fairly quickly.

Village Clerk-Treasurer Rick Roberts found himself dealing with some very difficult insurance issues after the village’s insurer initially refused to pay for much of the damage, but he and LaRose remained adamant the village taxpayers would not be held responsible, and in the end, they were able to get all of the cost covered by insurance and state and federal money.

The Little League season was over, but the fields were badly damaged by the flood, and it took a number of work sessions, some stretching into the spring, to get them into playable shape for the season.

Zappone said the dealership benefitted from Chrysler’s comprehensive insurance plan on the cars, although reconstructing the dealership building turned out to be more complicated, because of insurance issues.

Still, rebuilding the customer base was the most important thing.

“The people of this community have been unbelievable,” said Zappone, who added that Chrysler and neighboring dealers quickly got the franchise cars to sell. “People came back to our service department, and they brought friends, and people came to buy cars, and they brought friends to buy cars. Everyone helped in every way they could.”

 

Lingering effects

In many areas along the river, there are still scoured spots and fallen trees. The Slate Valley Museum only recently finished repairing its tile floors, and the Granville Little League complex is still far from recovered.

At least one home along the river was too badly damaged to repair and sits abandoned.

The skate park, which has been scheduled for work after the Little League renovations, has remained closed with no reopening date in sight.

Additional work still need to be done along the Mettowee to keep water from overflowing into the municipal well fields, but the state and federal governments are providing money for that.

In fact, between the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency – along with some insurance money – the village and town hit not take a financial hit for the recovery.

In some ways, Weller said, the whole experience had more than a few positive moments.

“We were getting notes in our mailbox from people who wanted to help. Green Mountain College and the Modern Woodmen of America offered freezer space for our archives. It was surprising how much people were willing to give.

“The amount of press we received was amazing. It turned out to be a good way to let people know we were here.”

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