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An Archival Lookback At Impacts Of Storms Irene And Lee In The Hudson Valley

Prattsville Agway during the flood.
Young's General Store

Just a week apart, in August and September of 2011, Irene and Lee brought heavy rains and sustained winds throughout the WAMC listening area. Normalcy has finally returned to a Greene County community that was nearly destroyed by the twin storms.

August 28, 2011. The Route23A bridge over the Kaaterskill Creek in Town of Catskill was one of the first bridges taken out by floodwaters. Hurricane Irene wrecked properties and foreverchanged the courses of many lives.

"All I know is that everything is gone."

One of the people I met as I toured the muddied streets of the devastated village was Tonya Walsh, who lost her home and the family business. Her husband was alone in their Route 32 home asleep when floodwaters hit.


"It never ever gets water over there, when he went to get his power bar, his charger for his phone to call 911 because he was so scared. And as he went, sat down and get a charge around the water, he could see the power bar lit up, he's lucky through the grace of God that he did not get electrocuted. By the time he was able to run to [Route] 32 – because it's up on a hill, the house was completely underwater."

A car sits half-buried after massive flooding swept through downtown Windham, N.Y. from Tropical Storm Irene.
Ryan Delaney / WAMC
A car sits half-buried after massive flooding swept through downtown Windham, N.Y. from Tropical Storm Irene.

Similar scenarios played out in many small communities including Prattsville, which, for a time, became a poster child for hurricane destruction in New York. What Irene started, Tropical Storm Lee finished several days later.

Every building along Main Street was damaged or destroyed, including all 22 of the town's businesses. Eleven houses collapsed in the flood, fifteen had to be condemned and were torn down, and more than 100 homes damaged so badly that the residents couldn't immediately return to them.

Young's General Store on Washington Street had been a fixture in town for over 54 years. 75 percent of the building had to be torn down after the flood. 90 percent of the family business' inventory was swept away. Brian Young says the family business and the town have finally fully recovered.

"The hardest time was that two weeks time afterwards. So your adrenaline has stopped pumping, exhaustion starts to hit in. Not really a depression necessarily, but definitely lower spirits start hitting in, and that's when, you know, the community, they come around each other and just hunkers down and thing keeps on, keeps on going forward. And then other people outside of the town came in to refresh and rejuvenate. And encourage and that, and they stuck around for months, some years, to make sure that the town was better than ever, and something to be proud of which, I feel that we feel completely blessed with because some of the other towns did not come back as much as I think Prattsville did where everybody's more proud and happier to be in town and it looks better than ever.”

Although it took years for some residents to receive relief funds or insurance payments, Young says Prattsville has been made whole again, celebrating its comeback with a community festival: "Prattsville Still Afloat" is being held through Sunday featuring townwide lawn sales, barbecues, block parties, a craft fair, farmer's market and musical performances.

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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