COLUMBIA COUNTY — It has been a week of weather extremes.
First, it was the Aug. 23 earthquake originating from Mineral, Virginia. The tremors spread underground from Virginia up to Massachusetts and New York, including Columbia County. Then, looming in the meteorological background was Hurricane Irene. That storm soon began its trek up the Atlantic seaboard and swept its way through the Northeast, pounding New York state and New England on Sunday.
On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo formally requested from the federal government an expedited major disaster declaration, according to a press release. At least six fatalities have been reported statewide, read part of the letter the governor addressed to President Obama. The governor is requesting additional financial aid after taking a helicopter tour of the counties most devastated by Hurricane Irene.
“Preliminary damage assessments are impossible to perform at this time due to ongoing life-saving response activities and due to both state and local resources being overwhelmed,” stated Cuomo. “I have, however, flown over these areas and saw hundreds of private homes either destroyed or with major damage and an enormous amount of public infrastructure damage that far surpasses the State of New York’s threshold of $25 million. I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary.”
Cuomo is requesting a hazard mitigation grant program statewide. He also seeks on behalf of the state:
n Public Assistance for Categories A-G in Albany, Bronx, Clinton, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Essex, Greene, Kings, Montgomery, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster, Warren, Washington and Westchester counties.
n Individual assistance including the Individuals and Households Program, Crisis Counseling, Disaster Unemployment Assistance, USDA food coupons and distribution, USDA food commodities, Disaster Legal Services, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Small Business Administration disaster loans for the same 26 counties.
Many roadways throughout Columbia County became impassable due to flooding by fast moving streams overflowing their banks. Greene County, particularly the town of Windham, was harder hit by Hurricane Irene than Columbia County. At least one death in Greene County is being attributed to the impact of Hurricane Irene, authorities reported.
No lives were lost in Columbia County, however, emergency services were required for a water rescue in the town of Chatham. Columbia County 911 dispatched Red Rock firefighters at 12:37 p.m. for a water rescue at 286 Clark Road. The residents of the home could not cross Indian Creek due to flooding conditions. Authorities called the Niverville Fire Department, whose swift water rescue team removed the residents from the Clark Road home. Chatham Rescue remained on scene. One person was treated for an asthma attack.
Elsewhere in Chatham, roads previously closed by flooding were reopened around 2 p.m. Monday. Those roads, as reported by Chatham Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt, included Raup, Ashley Hill, Riders Mills, Loomis, Bachus and Merwin roads. Kinderhook Lane from the Nassau town line to the New Lebanon town line and the entire length of Shufelt Road from Chatham to Ghent had been closed due to flooding.
Chatham Town Highway Superintendent Joseph Rickert said the town’s roadways encompass 97.35 miles. Twenty-four roads were damaged in the hurricane’s wake, he said. Some of the damage was more significant on some roadways than others. Some roads had damage in three or four sections of the respective road surface. Dividing the town into four sections or zones was key to keeping on top of storm-related repairs, he said.
“We worked 14 hours straight,” said Rickert of he and his crew. “We came back in at 6 a.m.”
His voice reflected that effort. The re-opened roads were passable, he said, explaining that by “passable” the roads were put back together so vehicles could get through.
The black top on Merwin Road was lifted in the storm. That road will need to be repaved in the future, noted Rickert.
“I hope it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, to have a hurricane go right over you,” he said. “It could have been worse.”
Monday’s gentle breeze and brightness made for an optimistic note. The later summer weather was an improvement over Sunday.
“I’m glad the sun’s shining,” Rickert commented.
Chatham Village Mayor Tom Curran thanked the village Department of Public Works and Department of Transportation for their work.
“The DOT project of several years ago handled all the stormwater beautifully within the village. School Street was clear, Spring Street was fine, Park Row, Main Street, all clear of water, even at peak flood,” Curran wrote in an email. “No major damage, mostly relegated to some washouts on Elm Street, a little blacktop damage here and there.”
Roadway closures and reopenings elsewhere in Columbia County reflected storm recovery progress.
Canaan Town Clerk Charlotte Cowan reported that overall, the town did pretty well.
“I haven’t heard of any disasters,” she said.
In Austerlitz, Beaver Dam Road and County Route 9 by the Punsit Creek Bridge were reopened by Monday. West Hill, Dugway, Stonewall, Cross and Mallory roads were still reported closed. The intersection of County Route 22 at Route 203 was closed due to downed wires. In Austerlitz and Hillsdale, Route 22 from Routes 203 to 71 remained closed due to flooding.
The entire length of County Route 24 in Canaan was closed, but was reopened on Monday. In New Lebanon, West Hill and French Hill roads were reported closed Sunday due to flooding, as was County Route 9 between Adams Crossing and Route 20.
Rainfall amounts in the northeastern part of the county, as reported to the National Weather Service in Albany on Sunday, included 6.90 inches by 6:32 p.m. in Chatham Center and 4.54 inches by 4:48 p.m. in North Chatham. In Ghent, 7 inches of rain fell by 5:25 a.m. Monday.
Meanwhile, the hurricane season for the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico runs from June through November, states the National Hurricane Center website. Meteorologists are now tracking Tropical Storm Katia.