Here's the Scoop: September 7, 2011

Storm clouds still linger
When I awoke last Tuesday, I realized that we were running low on some of the staples in the food department — chips, cheese, seltzer, coffee, bagels. My plans for the day ran through my head, trying to figure out a good time to drop into Freshtown to pick up these items.

It didn’t take long for the reality to kick in: Freshtown wouldn’t be open that day – or anytime soon. The best-case scenario that I’ve heard is that the supermarket will be open in a few months. Less than 48 hours after the worst flood in the area’s history, there were still many unanswered questions.

When I arrived home after attending a concert on the Saturday before the flood, the rain was steady, but not overwhelming. I went to bed hoping that the residue of Hurricane Irene would not have much of an impact.

Upon waking, I surveyed the scene around our hillside home. Water was racing at a pretty good clip down one track of our dirt road. It was apparent that some minor repairs would be needed. This was not unusual. And our intermittent waterfall was doing a mini-Niagara Falls imitation. It certainly had rained a fair amount, but overall, things didn’t seem too bad.

I waited until after 9 a.m. and phoned a neighbor friend to ask if he’d be interested in helping divert some water off the road. He gladly said yes and we agreed to grab some tools and provide our response to nature’s efforts.

We worked for hours. It was hard labor – raking, shoveling, hoeing. But, we made great strides creating new paths for the water and cleaning out ditches. When we’d gone about three-tenths of a mile, we felt very good about our efforts.

Unexpected visit
As we went to work on one last trouble spot, another neighbor drove up. He asked if we’d been to town. We said no. I asked if there was much flooding. His face gave me a definitive answer — one that I didn’t like.

“Get in, you have to see it for yourself,” he said. It was an order. As it turned out, this friend needed to share his grief.

In just a few minutes, we arrived at the Southside Road Spur that provides a bird’s-eye view of Margaretville. All three of us were speechless — with the exception of an occasional expletive, which seemed the only appropriate dialog. The scene below was stunningly awful. Water poured through the supermarket and adjacent drug store. A real estate office was gutted. The nearby auction business had water licking at its roofline.

We stared at the scene for a long time, eventually moving to different vantage points. No matter where we went, the view was gut-wrenching.

After a long time, we got back into the truck and headed home. Like hundreds of others, we were trapped by floodwaters. Unlike many folks whose businesses and homes we had been viewing, the flood was merely an inconvenience for us. To a good number of people in Margaretville, Arkville, Fleischmanns and a number of other nearby communities, the historic event was life-threatening and financially catastrophic.

Getting the bad news
Harboring an unsettling blend of helplessness and guilt, I returned to our dry home. I began making calls to get additional storm details. As is usually the case during such events, some of the reports proved to be vastly exaggerated. Others, unfortunately, were very true — including the story of a woman in Fleischmanns who was killed when the bungalow in which she was staying was swept away by flooding. The tragic tone of this force of nature had risen to new heights.

Fast-forward a week. The wounds from this flood are still deep and raw. They will take considerable time to heal. But, as is often the case in times of disaster, human fortitude has prevailed. With each shovel of mud and every bag of ruined merchandise that is tossed away, our communities become a bit more whole again.

The power of this storm will live forever in photos and videos. The memories of community courage and selfless acts of volunteerism will last even longer.
—Brian Sweeney