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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rogowski farmRogowski Farm, Pine Island

Growing pains

When Irene ripped through the Valley, she dealt farmers in Orange, Ulster, and Greene counties a massive blow to their harvests. “Being a farmer means always living with the reality of loss, and putting as many safety nets in place as possible,” says Cheryl Rogowski, the second-generation owner of W. Rogowski Farm in Pine Island. Rogowski — who supports multiple CSA sites, participates in GrowNYC and farmers markets, and sells wholesale to stores and restaurants — scrambled to bring in as much of her crop as possible before the hurricane hit. “But with the magnitude of a storm like that, it would have taken months of warning to be adequately prepared,” she says.

As the rain came down, Rogowski — who was trapped in her home for a few days before a rescue team reached her — watched the floods claim 80 acres of her land and keep them under water for three whole weeks. “It’s almost akin to going through a traumatic death,” she says. “When the flood receded, I wished it all was back under water so I didn’t have to look at it.” The farm’s squash, onion, cucumber, pepper, and pumpkin crops all drowned, and Rogowski could only salvage 10 percent of her potatoes. “We had to abandon all crops that were under water and ones that sat in soggy soil within 10 feet of the flood line,” remembers Rogowski. “They were just obliterated.”

Rogowski was certainly not alone in her plight. Farmers across the Valley lost huge amounts of their summer yields. Up in Ulster, some of the fields on the 157-year-old Wilklow Orchards were under water for two days. The majority of the tomato crop had to be scrapped. “Nothing replaced those funds,” says Sharon Wilklow. “Insurances helped a little, but only covered a fraction of the costs.”

Yet good often comes of bad, and this crisis was no exception. The Orange County community rallied and formed Warwick Farm Aid, a fall fund-raising effort that sold tee-shirts and other items and hosted a benefit concert; they raised $100,000 to help supplement losses at 45 farms. “The outpouring of support was incredible,” Rogowski says. “It always came at just the right time, almost like if you needed a Band-Aid, you got a Band-Aid.”

The struggle, however, is far from over. Rogowski has since replanted her crops and added some high tunnel planting areas that can shelter and grow plants year-round, but at press time she was testing the entire farm on a microbial level for harmful substances left over from the flood waters. “It’s costing us thousands of dollars, but we’re doing it,” she says. “We’re digging our heels in to get through today, and then through tomorrow.”


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