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August 27, 2012

Irene memories flood back to area

By Denise Richardson, Staff Writer
The Daily Star

The Daily Star — The hurricane season has started for this year, but Jim Young of Prattsville said weather reports are too stressful to watch.

Last year, flooding from Tropical Storm Irene wrenched his hardware and feed store, A.J. Young and Son Inc., off its foundation and flooded his nearby home. The business, known as the Prattsville Agway, reopened months ago and the house was renovated, but he said emotional bruises linger even as positive steps continue toward recovery.

On Aug. 28, the tropical storm, downgraded from a hurricane, dumped torrents of rain on the Catskills, Adirondacks, Berkshires and Vermont. In New York state, Delaware and Schoharie counties were among the seven hardest hit, and Irene’s rainy, windy punch damaged or destroyed roads, bridges, homes and businesses, and one woman was killed.

Prattsville businessman weathers the storm

In Prattsville in the early morning of Aug. 28, Jim Young said, he, his wife, Peggy, and their adult sons, John and Brian, went to the hardware store and took some precautions. They moved computers to a dry location, he said, and relocated three horses to a higher site from the barn, where a foot of water collected. The storm raged while they were in the store, which was built on a three-foot platform, and Young said, eventually the store was flooded by 4 feet of water.

“I really wanted to get out of this building — I didn’t want it to cave in,” Young said. The family made a plan: John ran a garden hose from the store to a nearby utility shed, and the four climbed, along with their three dogs, onto the slightly pitched roof of the shed. They sheltered themselves with plastic garbage bags, and bags of topsoil provided some leverage.

Storm water swirled below, and at one point, Young pleaded breathlessly to Irene, “Don’t take my greenhouse,” which was nearby, but the structure was swept away.

After about 2½ hours on the roof and after water receded, the Youngs left the shed roof to find indoor shelter.

“We felt good about getting back inside,” Young said.  “There were other people who had just as scary experiences — I’m just glad we were all together.”

Irene destroyed about half the 5,000-square-foot retail space of A.J. Young & Son for a total property loss of about $500,000, said Young, who didn’t have flood insurance. Irene caused “unsurpassed” damages since the family business was founded by his father in 1957, he said.

The cleanup began, and about six weeks later, some merchandise was being sold from a pole barn, he said. The main retail store re-opened Dec. 1. After the business secured a $430,000 loan through the Small Business Administration, a two-story, 40-by-60 foot building was constructed to replace a lost wing, Young said. Finishing touches are under way, he said, and plans are to have a grand opening this autumn for the downstairs.

Young credits continued business from the community, funding through a federal loan and volunteers as key contributors toward recovery, which continues. Volunteers helped with “rotten, dirty jobs” to clean mud and debris from the property and merchandize, he said.

Young said he and his wife live in a 100-year-old house that stands about 30 yards behind the business. Flood water from Irene filled the basement, then rose to 5 feet on the first floor, he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided $29,000 because more than 50 percent of the house was damaged, Young said, and with insurance and volunteer help, the home was renovated. A second-home owner offered the use of a house a few miles away, Young said, and they lived there for about eight months.

“People wanted to help people,” Young said. “You see the support and love that comes from your community and all around — other parts of the country. It’s just unbelievable what people did — I can’t say enough.”

Recently, Young tried to show his gratitude.

His son John married Jessica Lane earlier this month, and after the formal reception in the store’s new two-story building, Young opened up the second floor and asked residents, customers and others in the community to join the family for food, drinks and dancing.

“It was a way for me to say ‘thank you,’” Young said. About 200 people accepted his invitation to party in the upstairs of the addition, he said, while about 150 wedding reception guests celebrated downstairs.

Young said living through a storm like Irene is emotionally and psychologically bruising and he has become especially attuned to his wife’s anxiety about rainfall.

“It’s tough on my wife,” he said, and they don’t watch the Weather Channel now.

But he pays attention to the weather report enough to plan special activities with his wife if heavy rainfall is in the forecast. Once, when 2 or 3 inches were predicted, Young took his wife to Albany for an overnight stay, restaurant meals and shopping, keeping the weather-related reason to himself.

Healing, he said, takes time and compassion.

Emergency Services director coordinated response

Richard Bell, director of the Delaware County Department of Emergency Services, said in the days that Hurricane Irene was moving up the coast, area officials met to consider various “what if” scenarios. A decision was made not to deploy emergency trucks, resources and personnel to areas downstate because of possible local needs.

The decision was a good one, Bell said.

“I had great concerns from the beginning that this could go either way,” Bell said. “We were too close for comfort.”

Delaware County’s previous experiences with flooding have been applied into disaster preparedness and the formation and readiness of the county’s emergency services center on Phoebe Lane in Delhi, Bell said. The response to Irene was a matter of coordinating efforts, services, volunteers and resources through the center, he said.

Before Hurricane Irene, the county had been working on updating its All-Hazard Mitigation Plan, Bell said. But the storm intensified the effort to revise the comprehensive plan to identify vulnerabilities in the county, such as flood-prone areas, and plans to reduce damages in the future.

“There were a number of lessons learned as we look back to improve our service,” Bell said. The No. 1 effort has been working on improving emergency communications systems, he said, and to that end, the county joined Otsego, Schoharie, Greene, Sullivan and Ulster counties in the Catskill Consortium, which aims to improve communications in the area and leverage funding.

“Disasters don’t happen inside county lines,” Bell said

Margaretville mayor ‘surprised’ by recovery

The business community in the village of Margaretville has made a “remarkable” comeback that has attracted shoppers, Mayor William Stanton said Friday, adding that significant steps have included the reopening of Freshtown, the community’s grocery store, two months ago, and plans to rebuild and open a CVS Pharmacy in about four months.

Stanton said Margaretville has between 24 and 36 businesses, and Irene caused damages to 90 percent of them, with 95 percent now “up and running.”

“We’re coming back very quickly,” Stanton said. “I’m surprised.”

On Thursday, Howard Glaser, director of state operations, visited Margaretville and toured some businesses, Stanton said, and the representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office “was astonished with how the village has bounced back.”

Cuomo has visited Margaretville multiple times since Hurricane Irene, including a few days after the storm passed through the area, Stanton said.