Saturday, September 3, 2011

Upper Jay, six days after Irene.

Six days after Irene drove the Ausable River and its tributaries over their banks, Kary and I visited the heavily hit stretch of the valley between Ausable Forks and Keene Valley. 
Here's what we found in Upper Jay.

Residents of Upper Jay have been cleaning up as best they can.
The contents of people's homes lie along the roadsides in sodden heaps.

The Ausable often overflows its banks in spring, due to snowmelt and ice jams, and when it does it sometimes floods basements and covers fields and roads with several inches of water.  But nobody we spoke to remembers seeing anything like this.

This shed was lifted by several feet of flood water and dropped in an adjacent field.

Farther along in the same field lies an entire house that suffered the same fate (below).

Fortunately, nobody was living in it at the time.

The same house from a distance (above), with freshly deposited river cobbles in the foreground. 
Here's the foundation it came from (below).

Julie Robards showed us what happened to her store, Red Barn Antiques, and the adjacent buildings. The vegetation still leans as if blown by a gale, but it's dead calm, sunny, and muggy-hot.

"The water came up to here," she said, pointing to a prow-like, antique glass greenhouse room that had just been added a short time ago. 

"I think this might have saved the place, because it seems to have split the current so it flowed around the building.  It's hard to believe but only one small piece of this glass wall was broken."

"But the water was angry when it reached around to the far side of the building," she added.  "It caused a lot of damage there, and even more damage inside."  Around the back, friends and neighbors were helping to clean out the water-soaked rooms and merchandise. "This barn was built in back 1840, but it's never gone through such a flood before."

"This community," she said, "is just incredible."

"Things were already tough because of the economy, but this is just a disaster," Carol continued.  The store was full of antiques on consignment, many of which are now ruined. "I had no flood insurance, FEMA won't cover the costs because this is a business rather than a residence, and I can't have the power restored because the line runs underground rather than on poles." 
As she spoke, a friend offered to set up a generator for her.

Back out on the road, we noticed two pink flamingos and lawn chairs in front of the barn. "Those aren't just any old lawn ornaments," Carol explained. 

"I'm an expert on old plastics, and there was a whole flock of antique plastic flamingos out there until the river swept them away. Those two are all that's left." 

A short distance away was the home of Carol McDowell. The river had torn through her house and dropped tons of sand and gravel all over the yard.  She was standing outside with her daughter, who had just found some of Carol's high school photos amid the mess.

"My husband used to keep this lawn neater than what you'd see in a magazine," she told me. "He passed away last October." She shook her head; "I suppose it's a good thing he didn't have to see this."

Carol said that she considers herself lucky because she had flood insurance. But the place is totaled, and the prospect of starting over is daunting. "I was thinking of moving closer to the rest of my family anyway, now that my husband is gone," she said. "I just didn't plan on doing it so soon."

A mile or so downstream, between the fire station and the library, a speed limit sign represents an informal flood gage. We were told that the water reached the middle of the zero on this sign.

Spared by its location just beyond the reach of last Sunday's flood, the Brookside Motor Inn has opened its doors to those in need of shelter, and is also running an impromptu food pantry.

The sign below reads, simply, "Take what you need."

 Owner Marlene Prescott has been busy coordinating volunteers and donations. 

"Just stop on by if you need a meal, or if you'd like to contribute food or money or labor," she said.
"We're a close community, and we help each other out." 

More from the Ausable Valley to come in later posts.

One good place to look for info on ways you can help
 is the North Country Public Radio website:


  1. Thanks for the update Curt and Kary. Wonderful how the community is pulling together. I'm afraid we're looking at the harbinger of times to come.

  2. These "take what you need" actions show another America than the one seen in stupid TV shows as "American Greed" or "Deadly Sins". The US can be such a Janus Head to outsiders as me (Belgium), it's really difficult to have a well founded opinion about "the" American. As everywhere, there's good and bad out there, as everywhere else...

    Vanhees "Ben" Benoit