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."


  1. I am a North Country native living in Virginia. At least twice a year my wife and I drive up through Keene Valley on our way up to Saint Regis Falls. I had no idea the scope of the flooding here. The picture of the recognizable Mountaineer and the fire station brought it all home for me. We send positive thoughts and hope for a swift rebuild your way. As we are often reminded living on former tidal marshes here in VA, nature ALWAYS takes back what is hers.

  2. Thanks for sharing photos - not many posted so far in the Albany press so getting the word out is really important!

  3. Wow! What devastation! You're quite the iReporter!

  4. Thanks for the photo's Curt. The visual really brings the devastation home.

  5. We drove south through the Keene Valley on Saturday, after spending a week in the Paul Smiths area, which we have done for the past 15 years. Thanks for the photos and information about one of our favorite places. We're hopeful that you tough Northerners will pull together and make things work again.
    Jamie Fine

  6. My family land above Keene, Jay and Upper Jay was virtually destroyed by the flash floods on Sunday. The devastation that has happened in the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks is the real story behind Irene, and the media have skipped it completely! They missed the real story.

  7. I currently live in South Carolina, and to watch the news down here, you wouldn't think Irene passed north of New York City.

    It wasn't just the Adirondacks that got hit in the upstate. The northern Catskills took major damage from flooding as well. http://www.watershedpost.com/places/schoharie-county

  8. Thanks for helping folks understand the devastation that Irene brought to our town. The community will need lots of help recovering from the storm and rebuilding businesses and homes ravaged by flooding Please send your tax-deductible contributions to Keene Flood Recovery Fund, c/o Adirondack Community Fund, PO Box 288, Lake Placid, NY 12946. (Checks should be made payable to ACT/ Keene Flood Recovery Fund.)

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  10. For more years then I care to remember we have been visiting Keene Valley & the surrrounding areas from the UK,rest assured we will not let hurricane Irene put us off so take care & see you soon

  11. We were leaving from a family wedding the day Irene was hitting hard. Coming through the valley, I knew things were getting really bad and would get worse. At a portion of the road that was being washed over we were advised to turn back and "wait it out at the cafe". I'm glad I listened to my instinct and pushed through to the highway. We were probably one of the last vehicles to get out of there.
    I hope to return soon in more sunny weather.

    Arbutus, MD

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  13. My mother grew up in Keene; she was born in 1919. My grandparents are buried in a little cemetary high up behind the village. Was there damage done to the cemetary as well? It's a very old cemetary with gravestones from as far back as the Revolutionary War. Am also wondering what happened to the inn that used to be in Keene - it was built around a huge tree -- was it the Elm Tree Inn?

    1. Hi Cathie;

      Thank you for your comment, Cathie. I'm not sure if you mean the little cemetery near the turnoff to Elizabethtown, but if so, then I'm not aware of any damage to it (too high up for flooding to reach it). And perhaps someone else can answer your question about the Inn better than I can - though most of the buildings in Keene did survive despite damage. All the best; Curt

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