On Monday, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein called the post-Irene flooding the worst natural disaster in Ulster County’s history.” On Wednesday, Hein, joined by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey and, via teleconference, state Sen. Bill Larkin and Assemblyman Pete Lopez, said help — from as places as near as New York City and as far as Tulsa, Oklahoma — was on the way.
In a news briefing held at Hein’s sixth-floor office in the county office building in Uptown Kingston Wednesday afternoon, Hein gave an update on the efforts to help people whose lives have been turned inside out by the havoc-wreaking floods which swept away several homes, drowned numerous cars and swallowed up at least several million dollars worth of the county’s infrastructure. Hein said that so far, the estimate of damage to just county roads and bridges is somewhere between $8 million and $10 million dollars. “That’s only a small portion of the damage we’ve seen throughout the county,” Hein said.
Hein noted that the scope of the disaster is pushing the region onto the global stage. “We’ve had inquiries from as far away as Japan about the disaster.”
The heavy rain and high winds hit hardest in the southeastern and northwestern sections of the county, raising creeks well past flood stage and rendering more than 80 roads impassible, though that number dwindled to about a dozen on Wednesday. The Coldbrook Bridge in Shandaken was swept away and nobody seems to be able to find it. Seventy-foot trees were seen plunging down the raging Esopus Creek, also in Shandaken.
New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Environmental Conservation authorized releases from Catskill reservoirs to mitigate downstream flooding. Releases were halted as water rapidly rose.
County Emergency Management Office Director Art Snyder said the Esopus Creek crested 12 feet above flood stage, the Rondout nine feet and the Wallkill six feet. Hein advised that bridges over creeks that crested would be studied by engineers for structural damage.
Hein praised the county Department of Public Works for their efforts in getting a substitute bridge for the washed-out Hatchery Hollow Bridge in Oliverea, allowing cut-off residents to get in and out: “In less than 24 hours, using surplus materials, in an amazing feat of engineering and a testament to their hard work, they were able to make a secondary bridge.”
Hein said the county is extending the state of emergency which was declared last Friday before the storm hit, so “the government can continue to function with emergency powers.” The ban on non-emergency driving had been lifted earlier in the week, but Hein continued to ask people to proceed with caution and not to drive through flooded areas.