Driving along Route 28 in the Catskills Mountain, five days after Tropical Storm Irene devastated the region, can be deceptive.
It’s a beautiful sunny day. Some leaves are starting to turn yellow and crimson. There’s feeling in the air that it will be a nice holiday weekend to cap off the summer.
But if you stop in the towns along the way — Boiceville, Phoenicia, Margaretville — it’s another story all together. The streets and sidewalks are dry and dusty as the mud that flowed down main streets and into homes and businesses dries in the hot sun.
Richard Occhi has been the part-owner of the grocery story in Boiceville since 1989. The river nearby flooded his store, leaving several inches of mud in one corner, a few feet of groceries in another and even dead fish.
“To be honest, I don’t even know the extent of the damage,” he said looking around at the empty freezer cashes and mud stained shelves. “I’ve been here all week 24/7 and I am still figuring out what is damaged.”
Towns like Phoenicia are still without power, making the clean up that much slower. And aid from the state has also not arrived.
“We’ve been told for four days straight, ‘It will be there at noon,’” said Rob Stanley, Phoenicia’s city supervisor. “This is my fifth noon of promise and still nothing on the ground.“
While the town leaders wait, they are organizing local clean up crews. Teams of people with shovels and rubber boots were scooping away the piles of mud in street. Others were cleaning the piles of debris on one of the few bridges into town.
Anne Garvey drove from Rosendale several miles away to help out. “We are going to start with Main Street and then work down into the houses tomorrow.”
But the wait for official help reinforces the sense of isolation among some residents of the Catskills. Without power, telephones or internet service, many residents are left wondering how friends are faring in nearby communities. They also feel isolated from the rest of the world. Stanley said he has been resorting to transistor radios to get any news.
In the meantime, building inspectors are deciding what structures can stand and which ones need to be condemned. That’s led to incidents of looting in some towns.
And as you drive further into the Catskills, the remnants of Irene become more apparent. Part of Route 28 washed away into Esopus Creek. National Guard troops blocking access to smaller roads closed due to rock slides or because the parts of the road have been washed away completely as in Oliverea.