Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Irene devastates the Ausable Valley

Former hurricane ("tropical storm") Irene did relatively little damage last Sunday near my home in Paul Smiths, here in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. 

But the Ausable Valley is another matter entirely.

Here are some photos of what I saw when I drove down there today.

The first sign of major damage I came across was just east of Lake Placid. 
A massive tangle of tree trunks, branches, and roots was jammed against the bridge below the ski jumps by the force of the swollen Ausable River.

In the town of Keene, one of the streams that feeds the Ausable jumped its banks and carved a new route for itself right through the heart of town.  Sand and gravel now lies among what used to be homes and yards.  The chunk of red siding in the left foreground used to be part of the fire station.

More from downtown Keene here.

Someone has spray-painted this plastic sheet with "Got grass seed?" 
 If the sudden, catastrophic flooding had happened at night, this might have been an even sadder story.  Fortunately, people could see the water rising in time to escape, and no lives were lost here.

The next photo shows the front of the fire station.  Notice the unusual view through the open top of the garage door on the right (looks like a reflection, but isn't)

From another angle...

The back of the building was torn away by the stream behind it.

You'd never guess that this stream did all that damage, including the damage to the adjacent bed of Hurricane Road.

Yes, it really is called Hurricane Road.

Farther up the Ausable along Route 73, Keene Valley was also hit hard.

On the outskirts of Keene Valley, just before you reach Roaring Brook Falls, Route 73 becomes impassable. 

Until this is repaired, and the river convinced to move off to one side again, this region is cut off from one of its most heavily traveled routes to the Northway.  As in the 19th century, the main road access between the Olympic region and the principal eastern route to downstate New York will be through Elizabethtown.

Beneath the torn asphalt, you can see the cobbles of a former riverbed.  The Ausable has obviously been here before, and the road is only a recent intrusion on this changeable floodplain.

It took a while for those of us who live outside the main impact zones to realize how serious the damage here was.  Now, two days after the storm, the rest of the state and the country are taking more notice.  Here, Senator Betty Little and Governor Andrew Cuomo address local residents and journalists at the remains of the Keene fire station.. 

Governer Cuomo announced his request to designate the county a disaster area, which should help to provide federal support for these communities.  He also said that he plans to relax the normal regulations overseen by the DEC and APA in order to make the rebuilding process more efficient.

"In our darkest hours," he said, "New Yorkers shine the brightest.  
Not only will we rebuild Keene and Keene Valley, we're gonna rebuild them better than ever, and we're gonna do it together."