Hurricane Irene 2011: Damage, Destruction, Rebuilding, and Before and After Photos

On August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene slammed into the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, causing devastating floods and other storm damage. One year later, the cleanup and rebuilding continues


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cave mountain brewing company in windhamCave Mountain Brewing Company in Windham

Wild ride in Windham

After the Batavia Kill overflowed during Hurricane Irene and turned Windham’s pretty Main Street into a rushing river, “I thought, ‘That’s it. We’re done. Windham is going to become a ghost town,’ ” says Graham Merk, the chairman of the Windham Chamber of Commerce. While he rode out the storm at his home several miles away from the center of town — “there wasn’t much damage, a tree came down” — his office in a historic building on Main Street was flooded. Still, it was nothing compared to the rest of the devastation he saw. Take the Windham Movie Theatre. “We had eight feet of water in there,” says owner Pat Higgins, who also runs a laundromat, an ice-cream shop, and a Subway restaurant out of the same 12,000-square-foot Main Street building. “I was completely unprepared for this. And it’s not the water; it’s the mud that really wreaks havoc on your building. At least that is my take on it.”

» See why Irene hit so hard (page TK)

But Merk was buoyed by the way the local townspeople rallied after the storm. He gives kudos to Bridget Pelham, a local teacher who “did everything” in the days following the storm; weeks later, she organized the Windham Support Group, which served as a clearinghouse of information and support for residents. He noted how local flower shop owner Erica Regan went into the center of town each day and set up tables beside the historic Centre Presbyterian Church, which she stocked with endless urns of coffee. Other people were showing up with barbecue grills; soon, food was being cooked and served all day long. “This went on for six or seven days,” says Merk. “It was nice because you were able to sit down and talk to people and tell them your troubles.”

Help continued to flow in from national organizations as well as grassroots groups. High school students from Cairo-Durham spent one September Saturday helping Higgins scrub out the movie theatre. It reopened in December; the Subway, not until May. While it took Higgins months to get back on his feet, “within six weeks the town looked just like it did before,” he says. “Except for maybe the sidewalks.”

Tim Adams, co-owner of the Cave Mountain Brewing Company, echoes that sentiment. “Now, I’d say that most people wouldn’t have even known it happened other than a couple of small details.” After a moment, he continues, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Banks and streams have greatly widened and cut through areas they had never cut through before. Our local golf course lost a lot of acreage — they had to reroute many of their holes. Our historical sidewalks were lost. But most of the store fronts have been improved. Many owners took it as an opportunity to make their businesses better than before.”

» Irene’s blow to local farms and crops (page TK)

Adams said that the brewery’s basement “filled up entirely with water, to the rafters. Half of our operation was down there and everything — from the electronics to the ice machines — was a complete loss. We had at least 2,000 pounds of grain down there in 50-pound sacks. They were all completely waterlogged and turned into 200-pound sacks of malt. They all had to be dragged out.”

Still, a “huge outpouring of volunteers, from local townspeople to second-home owners to even some military personnel,” helped Adams clean up quickly. “We were here from 10 to eight every day; we didn’t take breaks.” Cave Mountain was one of the first storefronts to reopen a month after the storm. “This is such a strong community,” says Adams. “Windham is really a great place to live.”

To celebrate how far the town has come, a street fair will take place on August 25. “There will be music, games for the kids, free food,” says Merk. “We’ve made huge strides. Come and see.”

» Next: Why Irene hit so hard


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