The Flood and Its Aftermath…
Since August 28th, Phoenicia- as well as the rest of the Catskills and areas along the Eastern United States- have been in crisis. The flooding and high winds of Tropical Storm Irene wrecked immense havoc on this fragile mountain ecology with mudslides destroying roads, debris carried by high waters dismantling bridges, homes moved from their foundations and filled with black mud, belongings ruined and topsoil stripped from once-fertile farmlands. The local economy came to a stand-still during Labor Day weekend, the most financially important 3 days of the year for our tourist towns. Never in recent memory has there been such complete devastation to the Town of Shandaken and its neighbors.
However, this weekend of September 11, just 2 weeks after the storm, all Phoenicia stores will be re-opened and the emergency shelter at Belleayre will close. That is not to say everything is back to normal- far from it- because homes that were full of mud may be cleaned out but have lost all their furniture, clothes, appliances, photographs, papers and heirlooms and local businesses, apart from ruined stock, lost the one weekend that would help them weather the winter months when there are fewer sales. Almost no-one who was affected by the flooding had flood insurance so ruined flooring, insulation and sheetrock are not covered nor are furnaces and swept away above ground septic tanks. Property that abutted the stream was melted away and some left dangling precariously over ravines that used to be lawn. In short, the physical destruction of this area has wiped out historic architecture, vibrant neighborhoods,personal possessions and the livelihoods of thousands. When stores that serve a huge rural area such as the Boiceville Market or Margaretville’s Freshtown grocery store and CVS pharmacy are wiped out, suddenly residents have to travel almost 100 miles to get food supplies or critical medicines- if the roads and bridges that can take them there are intact! In many cases, the infrastructure that connected Catskills communities were inoperative and there was no way to get refrigerated insulin let alone provisions to feed a hungry family. Freezers that held hundreds of dollars worth of food melted away with no electric service and there was no way to communicate with the lack of phone connections and in places like Shandaken, the absence of cell service.
It would have been very easy to forget about our corner of the world if it had not been for the Watershed Post. The online newspaper served as a lifeline for those who were in a news “black-out” as others who did have electricity and means to travel could report what was happening in areas affected by the storm. The Watershed Post installed a 24 hour live-blogging service (now only operative from 6-7pm every evening) that helped people communicate using twitter, email and direct commentary sharing photos, observations and resources that helped connect the stranded, bring supplies to the needy and alert the outside world what had happened to us during and after the storm. This valuable emergency service showed the importance that the internet has in a crisis- even when those afflicted may not have access to a computer, others outside the area can direct attention to the emergency and document what is happening. Thanks to the Watershed Post’s LiveBlog, the community of Facebook, individual emails and Twitter, Phoenicia could issue a call for volunteers to help with the immense task of cleaning up. Over 100 people from our town and beyond showed up last weekend and worked relentlessly to restore the village streets, stores and homes affected by the flood. Donations of clothing, food and cleaning supplies streamed in and various organizations used social media to help channel fundraising. Most notably, a series of tweets by the Timber Lake Camp was picked up by the Phoencia Twitter account (@PhoeniciaTop10) that announced the formation of an online fund drive to help rebuild Phoenicia with an initial donation of $100,000! This money is offered by application to businessses and homeowners who have losses not covered by insurance. Applications can be found here: http://bit.ly/phoeniciareliefapp (deadline Sept 30th) The Timber Lake Camp Foundation, a non-profit foundation, is also set up to take donations via computer and channel them directly to the greatest need. Online donations can be made securely here: http://bit.ly/TLCphoeniciarelief Also, the Phoenicia Rotary Club has been mobilizing volunteers (daily 10am in front of Mama’s Boy Market, Main St Phoenicia NY) as well as raising money to help restore the town. Checks can be sent to: Phoenicia Rotary Club PO Box 600 Phoenicia, NY 12464 (Please note on the check that it is for Hurrican Irene Relief).
Although this has been- and continues to be- a terrible time for our town, everyone agrees that the support, generosity and help that has poured in has been making a difficult recovery bearable. It is wonderful how much this area is loved, by the people who live here and by the people who visit. The sorrow of what is lost, of what can never be replaced, is mitigated by the goodness shown by the volunteers who help clean out a mud-filled kitchen or a check sent in from far away to help replace a ruined furnace just in time for winter’s cold. We may be broken-hearted, but thanks to a caring community, we are not broken-spirited.