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Cleanup Continues For Residents Of Rensselaer County After Wednesday’s Storm Damage

Cleanup continues today in Rensselaer County. Wednesday's storms washed away roads, flooded basements and downed trees.

McLaughlin, Vilsack, Delgado
Credit WAMC / Dave Lucas
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined County Exec Steve McLaughlin and Congressman Antonio Delgado for a walking tour of devastation in the Sand Lake Town Hall neighborhood.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined County Executive Steve McLaughlin and U.S. Congressman Antonio Delgado Thursday for a walking tour of devastation in the Sand Lake Town Hall neighborhood.

Close to the intersection of Route 66, Joan Bishop told the officials she was out Wednesday afternoon when she got a frantic phone call from her granddaughter and rushed home. Her Taborton Road property had been up for sale and under contract but suffered storm damage. A few houses up a swollen Horse Heaven Brook washed out a bridge beside Jeremy Bell's place.

"It started with water rushing into the basement. So I went down to start, you know, shoveling into the sump pump because it just couldn't keep up with it. And then the second I saw the water go over the windows, I decided, you know, it's probably time to go upstairs. I came upstairs and it was kind of insane. The water was up to the windows, it was washing the road out, you know, it took the mailbox first and then the fence, the driveway lifted, and the only thing held that was the vehicle. So you know, it's a little scary."

McLaughlin says the damage is worse than Hurricane Irene back in 2011.

"We have engineers on site already at many of our bridges, and culverts. And we've expressed, all of us have really, about the needs for documentation. So we've told all of our folks document everything, you know, take pictures, we have drones in the air, analyzing what's going on, surveying what's going on. And it really is now sort of, the disasters hit, and now it's triage."

McLaughlin says during the storm pavement came off in sheets in some places, roads buckled, culverts washed out, businesses were damaged, and some residents stranded in their homes had to be rescued in boats.

Bell says as the rising water cascading down from Taborton Mountain roared through his property, he thought of leading his family to safety.

The Bell Family on the front porch of their storm-ravaged Taborton Rd. property.
Credit WAMC / Dave Lucas
The Bell Family on the front porch of their storm-ravaged Taborton Rd. property.

"At one point, we weren't sure what was going to go on, you know, we looked out the back door to see if we could at least get out to go to you know, higher ground. But when the water level is above my waist, you know, I just said it's probably not too safe to try and cross. So we decided we were going to try at least stick it out and see what would happen. But luckily it just started to you know, gradually go down."

Delgado says what happened in Rensselaer County illustrates the importance of strengthening the nation's infrastructure.

"Joan down the street there, she mentioned she'd never seen anything like this. I think she said she had her house up for sale. And then this comes along. Another woman right across the street here, has her home and business, does her business -  a hairdresser. And literally now is dealing not only with the damage done to her home, but to her source of income to support herself  and her family. Young couple over here, they just moved in five years ago woke up to a hole in their front yard. So the damage is serious. And yes, there was nobody that was hurt, thank God. But in terms of the impact it can have on one's morale and one's pocketbook, if you will, it can be significant. And so it's incumbent upon us to step up and make sure we can meet the moment here."

Bell, who owns a mobile welding business, used a tractor to construct a makeshift ramp to give his landlocked vehicles access to the road. Like everyone else affected by the storm, his next step is assessing the damage.

"Well, we called the insurance company, so when they come to take a look at everything, you know, that's probably first step. But the basement took a lot of damage, a little bit of cracking of the side of the foundation. You know the tree is down, the septic ripped up. It's gonna be a lot to repair. So, you know, I'll just start with seeing what they say and working on it slowly."

Vilsack, who was in the area for a scheduled two-day visit, says the federal government has programs available — but needs information.

Credit WAMC / Dave Lucas
Joan Bishop's home along Taborton Rd. took a hit from Wednesday's storm.

"The key here is to basically get as quick an assessment as possible of the damage that's been done, have that information compiled and then communicated, through the Congressman's office and through the State Senator’s office, to FEMA. And then FEMA will take a look at that information and make a determination. On our side, it's about farmers basically making sure that we know precisely what happened on their farms. And I have the power once we once that threshold is reached, to do a declaration and that would then open up emergency loan opportunities for producers."

McLaughlin says unnecessary travel is discouraged as crews continue making temporary emergency repairs. The monetary amount of damage is yet to be fully assessed and McLaughlin says some repairs could take several weeks. People with well water are advised to not drink it if their areas were flooded. Bottled water is being issued to those in need.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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