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The Anger of Irene

7 min read

There is nothing in my life that prepared me for the phone call I received last monday morning. It was from my mother, she was in hysterics, sobbing that she had lost her home due to flooding from Hurricane Irene. My mom lives in the small town of Esperance which is situated near the central most part of New York state. Hurricane's don't happen there or, at least, they didn't so I assumed she was being dramatic and just meant her house had filled with water and that her possessions were ruined. She tried to tell me it was gone - really gone - but I didn't really, truly, believe her; it sounded too far fetched. However, the pain in her voice as she started to vocalize a list of precious items that she had lost brought me to tears and I offered to drop what I was doing and to drive up and see what I could do to help her. If nothing else, I figured, I could be a shoulder to cry on. She moaned out that she wanted me to come up so I dashed down to my bosses office, told him what little I knew, and arranged to take an indeterminate amount of time off work.

I loaded my Jeep and camper with everything I could think I'd need. I packed tools, shovels, bleach, an air compressor, and even more tools. Once loaded Lisa and I took the kids to their sitter's house and we began the long drive. We didn't arrive until Tuesday evening and by then we had a nice large generator loaded in the Jeep as well. Her small street, Priddle Road, greeted us as if nothing had happened there. The first few houses on the hill looked perfect. The man who lives in the third house on the right was on his riding mower trimming his lawn. It all seemed to confirm my suspicions that my mom was exaggerating. Heck, the fact that I was able to get into Esperance itself made me further doubt her as we expected the roads to be flooded or washed out. Everything seemed extremely normal. We were being setup.

At the bottom of the hill, as we took the final curve and approached a canopy of trees the destruction became evident. It took our breath away. We were truly speechless. The road was a twisted mess of asphalt, mud, human filth, and debris. There were no houses in sight. None. Each house that had once stood in my mom's small community had been reduced to a large muddy pothole scattered with cinder blocks. The Schoharie Creek had risen from it's normally safe 1-3 feet of depth to a raging wall of water over 70 feet tall and had totally decimated the street. My moms long meandering hill that separated her from the creek was gone. The creek had redefined it's banks and my mom's plot of land was now mostly creek bed. Everything, every knick knack, every valuable she had ever owned was gone. Her list from the phone call a day before came back to me in a haunted echo, "My fathers china, my mom's little glass bottle that I had painted with her when I was a little girl. The small statue my brother and I had given to her when we were kids that said "Greatest Mom" - each of these items that were so heavily cloaked in memories were lost. I went to my mom, hugged her, and cried with her. Her entire life seemed to have been washed away. It was emotionally devastating.

I can't really explain the destruction. I've posted photos online but even they don't really help to make sense of it. At least, I tell myself, nobody was hurt or lost. The stuff is, after all, just stuff. It is much easier for me to deal with it because I don't have to live it. It was easier for me to reorient myself almost immediately and to help guide my mom and Susan through the following week because I still had a home to return to. I can not imagine the pain they, and their community, are suffering through. It was relatively easy for me to come up with a plan and to help her hire a contractor, contact FEMA, contact her insurance agent, and to take her on errands to get new work clothes, towels, and socks. It was also fairly easy for me to wander around the field of destruction searching for her effects. We found one of her drums, an antique wooden bookcase, and even two of her necklaces. In all I think we found about ten of her photographs. Each of these things will be cleaned up and, as needed, repaired so that she has them in her new, hopefully safer, home.

Her contractor struck us all as a very honest and forthright man. We don't have much choice but to trust him at the moment. My life demanded I return home this week and my mom and Susan are not even close to being normal again. They are lucky to already own a different plot of land a bit higher and further away from the river where they plan on rebuilding. It's a nice sized 4-acre lot that will be perfect for the small home and barn they plan on building. They were also fortunate to have a volunteer fire department that didn't forget their little street and instead warned them to evacuate just hours before the wave came through and scoured the earth of their homes. Thanks to the warning my mom was able to evacuate and take along her donkeys, dog, cat, chicken, and rooster. They are also extremely fortunate to have an amazing collection of friends.

At the top of Priddle Road, just across Burtonsville road, their friend has offered them shelter. Just down Burtonsville road their other friends E and J are stabling the donkey's and sheltering the chickens. E and her sister have also cleared the new home site on the new land so that the builder can start as soon as all of the red tape is cut. The builder, Marty, is eager to begin and seems totally unconcerned with the financial aspects of it. He reminds me of an old time drug store that provides in house credit to it's customers; just in this case on a much larger scale. Marty, along with input from my mom and Susan has designed a nice home that will be perfect for the two of them as they approach retirement. Hopefully, so long as the insurance company doesn't try to stiff them, the home will be paid for in full or nearly so when it is constructed. As overwhelmed as they have been by the events that swept away their home they have been equally overwhelmed by the kindness of their friends and strangers alike. In many ways it has helped to restore their faith in humanity.

It was with a heavy heart that I loaded my Jeep back up and left Esperance. I left on Tuesday of this week. My mom and Susan still had a shell shocked look on their face but, at least, they had begun the slow process of recovery. Schoharie county had even started, on Monday night, to repave Priddle Road. Their were tears in our eyes as I parted but we all I think felt a little bit of hope that things would eventually be alright. Sadly, the weather decided to smack the region in the mouth again. On Thursday Esperance was evacuated again as heavy rains were too much for the already sodden ground and full resovoir to contain and the city (and Priddle Road) all flooded again. The newly laid street was washed away and, for a while, my mom and Susan could not even get back to their temporary home on the farm because the main highway (Route 20) was shut down.

I have created a google map to help highlight the area and to give you a feel for the lay of the land. I have also set-up a page that people can use if they want to donate any money to my mom and Susan as they rebuild their lives.