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A year later, Irene’s damage still felt

August 26, 2012
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

AMSTERDAM - Guy Park Manor stands half repaired, portions of its exterior walls gaping open where stonework is incomplete. The remains of a mailbox at the entrance stand at a angle, small pieces of rock and rubble seemingly keeping it aloft. A sign stands across the railroad tracks, plain as day: "Closed to the public."

Across the tracks and road, Russo's Grill is open for business. Even today, from the rebuilt restaurant, one can look across the street, across the CSX railroad tracks, and see the effects of the massive storm that hit New York state late last August.

Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow recalls the intensity of Tropical Storm Irene and the devastating floods it brought. He said originally, the storm was expected to drop eight or nine inches of rain. By the time it ended, 18 inches had fallen. The banks of the Schoharie Creek and Mohawk River overflowed.

Article Photos

Amsterdam’s historic Guy Park Manor is shown in the aftermath of last year’s devastating floods, at left, and under repair this month, at right.

"I don't think any of us, not even the weather service, had a clue how much rain was going to drop," Schwabrow said. "We knew we were going to have some flooding in the Schoharie."

Schwabrow said it was originally predicted Irene would hit New York City and Long Island the hardest, but it poured on upstate New York with a vengeance.

Erie Canal Lock 11 was designed to buckle in the event of a hurricane. Further up stream, the lock at Fort Hunter collapsed on one side. Damage from debris and water bent the lock out of shape. Water destroyed small islands and the sides of the river bed all the way down to Cranesville, where the water went around an artificial barrier and damaged portions of Route 5. Schwabrow said CSX rail lines also were damaged, with trains bringing in fresh rock to repair sections of the rail line washed away.

National Grid reported it lost an electrical substation in Amsterdam due to the erosion of the Mohawk river's banks. According to National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella, a replacement station is being rebuilt near the Target distribution center in the town of Florida.

National Grid replaced 399 poles, 196 transformers and more than five miles of electrical wires after Irene. The total cost in repairs has allowed the Public Service Committee to let National Grid raise its rates to recoup more than $20 million in damages.

Montgomery County is earmarked to receive almost $3.2 million in public assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for municipal buildings and infrastructure damaged in the flood. About $2 million has been received so far.

According to FEMA, more than $1.8 million was paid in assistance to individual flood victims in Montgomery County.

Home damaged

Cindy and Hector Rivera of Fort Hunter could not live in their Main Street home for more than four months after the flood. Repairing the house themselves, they finally managed to move back in January. Water from a nearby creek rose up, filling their basement and flooding the house to three and a half feet.

Cindy Rivera said after the flooding rendered the house uninhabitable, they moved between their childrens' homes and apartments while repairing the home.

After $110,000 in repairs and 147 days out of their home, the Rivera family home still shows some marks of last year's flood. The garage still has a line of dirt and mud marking the high-water level. A pile of wood sits in the lawn, the remains of Hector's former deck for his pool.

Museum hit hard

Guy Park Manor, a Colonial Era structure on the north bank of the Mohawk in Amsterdam, was nearly washed away in the flood.

Ann Peconie, executive director of the Walter Elwood Museum, said the waters rose up to 11 feet high at nearby Lock 11. Water filled the basement and first floor of the state-owned historic house, which had just recently become the new location of the Elwood Museum.

The water brought debris through the water, smashing the west wall until it knocked the wall down, washing away everything in the west side of the building. This was after the museum received an $80,000 grant to establish a state-of-the art interactive room for children. The new additions were lost to the storm.

"When we went back into the building, that entire room was empty. Except for the shelves," Peconie remembers.

The museum also lost all the artifacts in its Victorian "pink room," she said.

The building was filled with mud, dead animals and wood.

"A lot of nasty bits, with artifacts mixed in," Peconie said.

After the waters receded, Peconie and volunteers salvaged what they could and established a recovery site at the old Fucillo's Car dealership on Division Street, where they currently reside. There, they have tried to clean the artifacts, which has taken a year, and bring the museum back to life.

Peconie said the museum in the process of purchasing the Noteworthy complex on Church Street. The proposed agreement calls for the Elwood to take over the care of the Noteworthy Indian Museum as well.

The Elwood is trying to secure a mortgage and funding through the Rural Area Revitalization Program to open the new museum site.

"We're very optimistic," Peconie said.

Officials with the New York State Canal Corp., which maintains Guy Park Manor, could not be reached for comment.

Back in Business

Mike Russo, third-generation owner of Amsterdam's Russo's Grill on Route 5, said his restaurant suffered about five feet of water damage. Russo and his wife, Barb, were in New Jersey before the storm hit, but they decided to come home after forecasters warned a hurricane might hit New Jersey. When they returned to Amsterdam, they found Irene had hit home.

"We weren't expecting anything," Russo said.

According to Russo, the water damage cost between $125,000 to $150,000 and three months to repair.

"Everything that you see in this building had to be torn out - the floor, from front to back," Russo said. The photos on the wall survived, however.

Thankfully, he said, grants and donations from the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and New York state, plus a disaster-relief tax break, have helped ease the debt.

Since reopening after the flood, Russo said, his business has almost doubled.

Arthur Cleveland is the Montgomery County reporter. He can be reached at



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