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Recovering from Irene

September 17, 2011
Editorial by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Publisher Catherine Moore, Managing Editor Peter Crowley

It was excellent news that the state reopened Route 73 so quickly, as well as the High Peaks, Giant and Dix wilderness areas. Now there's no obstacle for fall tourists to get here as the leaves begin their annual color change - which started a little late this year, but the pace is picking up briskly with the recent cool weather.

We hope people come to the Adirondacks in droves during this beautiful time of year to relax and have fun in the woods, on the waters and in our communities. Our hotels, restaurants, shops and guides are ready and waiting to serve.

But seeing how 73 was washed out, we couldn't help but wonder what steps the state Department of Transportation took to make sure the next big storm won't take it out again. Tropical Storm Irene was a wake-up call regarding the power of weather and water. It caused mountain brooks to rage and change course, in this case right through both lanes of the highway.

As it turns out, the DOT did buttress the road.

"Instead of putting a soil embankment back there, we filled it in with large stones," DOT spokeswoman Carol Breen told us Friday from Albany. "We don't really expect another storm like that, but in case there is one, that should strengthen it."

Meanwhile, some huge changes await those who go into the eastern High Peaks, Giant or Dix wilderness areas. For one thing, the pond has drained away at Marcy Dam, one of the most popular hiking stops; it's now a creek flowing through a mud flat. The pond at Duck Hole fared better, but there's still a lot more mud and a lot less water than before.

The storm also scarred the mountains with at least 24 new slides. Two of our reporters explored one of these this week, and it was pretty wild. Check out Mike Lynch's report and photos today in our North Country Living section. Here, where rocks and trees were swept and piled like sand, is where the power of water is most shocking.

Irene washed out quite a few bridges and trails, too, but trail crews from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Trail Improvement Society and others have been working hard on hikers' behalf: rerouting trails, arranging stream crossings and clearing trail-blocking blowdown. We appreciate their efforts.

Meanwhile, communities hit by the storm-swollen AuSable River and its tributaries still have a long way to go toward recovery. Most people's home and business insurance doesn't cover this, just as it didn't for those soaked by the floods this spring. Those latter folks pretty much had to pay for all their own repairs, since the federal government decided it wasn't able to help out.

For Irene, however, the feds are helping. President Obama declared Essex County as part of the Irene disaster area on Aug. 31, which means those whose property was damaged by the storm and its floods have 60 days - until Oct. 30, although that may be extended - to register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can do so either by calling 1-800-621-FEMA or by stopping by FEMA's nearest disaster recovery center at the Jay town Community Center in AuSable Forks. You'll start by getting a registration number, and then you'll have to document your damages.

Within limits, FEMA will give grants to make an Irene-damaged primary home (not a second home) "safe, sanitary and livable" again, and for both homeowners and renters, FEMA will give grants to cover some personal property and temporary lodging costs. Business and home owners can also seek loans through the Small Business Administration for expenses beyond FEMA's maximum.

After you document your damage, a FEMA-contracted inspector will visit the property to verify your claims. He or she will log it all into FEMA's network on a handheld computer, and you should get your check within a few days.

In practice, the process may not be as simple and efficient as it sounds, but still, without federal aid, many of Irene's victims would be ruined. When you're down, it's good to have help from your fellow Americans - but you can't get it if you don't register in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Adirondackers have gotten out ahead of the feds and are helping each other in remarkable ways. Volunteers' hours have been innumerable, and benefit events have raised tens of thousands of dollars. We strongly encourage you to donate to the community funds set up for the towns of Keene and Jay. You can donate online to Keene's, at, or you can mail checks to either Jay Irene Relief Fund, P.O. Box 730, AuSable Forks, NY 12912, or ACT/Keene Flood Recovery Fund, Adirondack Community Trust, c/o Melissa Eisinger, P.O. Box 288, Lake Placid, NY 12946.



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