Phoenicians get help cleaning up after Irene

Athena Hughes, 4, helps collect relief funds and material in Woodstock. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

“It’s better than sitting at home fretting,” explained Christine Becker, as she and three other gallant women helped me clear mud and debris from my flooded garage after the hurricane. These women were among the volunteers who flocked to Phoenicia on Friday, September 2, to help with the recovery process in a tremendous outpouring of assistance. Over the weekend, Woodstockers also collected over $15,000 in donations for the relief of Phoenicia.

Everyone in the region was impacted by the hurricane, since we all lost power for a period ranging from two days to a week or more. But people whose homes sustained no damage came from Woodstock, Olive, Saugerties, and Shandaken to help others, some people shoveling dirt from Main Street so the drains would not clog in the predicted rain, some going into homes to help with cleanup.


Notices went out on Facebook and other websites, drawing a crowd of over 150 people. The Phoenicia Rotary Club and the town’s emergency services organized the volunteer effort, setting up a tent on Main Street where people in need of help could sign up, and those ready to work could find assignments. Work crews were assembled, and they spread out on the streets with shovels and particle masks.

The easiest thing to do if you needed help with your home, an organizer pointed out, was to turn to the person next to you. I saw my friend Chris standing there, asked if she wanted to help with the garage, and soon I had a crew of my own.

The next morning, a tag team of trucks rolled past the house, and four men filled two pickup trucks with the soggy books, papers, and other detritus piled in front of my garage. Two of the men had brought their young daughters, who helped me pack muddy clothing into garbage bags. In half an hour, my driveway was clear. It was like having a pack of angels swoop down.

Many people had more serious problems. Houses along the Esopus in Mount Tremper were shifted off their foundations. Several homes along Route 212 and up the Oliverea Road were inundated, their structure and contents ruined.

Joe and Judy Livoti, who live on Riseley Road in Mount Tremper, were awakened at 6 a.m. on August 29 by the nearby fire siren, which they knew from past experience was a signal to evacuate. They checked the yard and the basement, but everything looked fine. Usually when there’s flooding, says Joe, it comes up the street in front of the house, but around 7 a.m., Judy spotted water seeping into the back yard.

“Within 10 minutes, we were flooded,” recalls Joe. He fired up the generator and extra sump pump he had borrowed, but after five minutes, it couldn’t keep up with the water gushing into the basement.

They called 911, and rescuers came in a pontoon boat with a small motor. They put the bow of the boat on the front porch, and the Livotis had to slide into the boat on their bellies, the dog on their backs. On Route 28, they were picked up by an ambulance and ended up in the Red Cross shelter at Belleayre.

When they returned home, they found a mud line three feet high on the walls, the contents ruined. On Monday, the Rotary sent 30 people over to help empty the house of furniture and debris and carry it away. “It humbles us that all these people have helped us,” says Joe. “They gave out so much love, and we feel so fortunate.”

The foundation of the Livotis’ house was declared sound by a FEMA inspector. Their son, Joe, came from Texas, and a close friend, Judd Eden, came from California to help tear down the walls to the studs. They plan to let the house dry out and then rebuild.

“People keep saying, ‘You’re so cheerful,’” says Joe. “When your life passes before your eyes, and you’re still alive, you feel lucky.”

Jay Street, which lies between Main Street and the Esopus, didn’t get power back until Sunday night. Saugerties residents Sandra Smith and Frank Campbell were there Monday morning, pulling debris out of the shrubs around the house they own. The neighbors had driven their tenant to the evacuation shelter at Belleayre when the water was rising. Smith and Campbell arrived after the storm to find the tenant’s car shifted several feet from the driveway. In the basement, their oil tank had been knocked over and broken open, and the oil had soaked into the electric panel, ductwork, and floor joists. They had the town turn off the electricity to the house for fear of starting a fire when the power came back on.

“The DEC is having a company come with a container to take out everything that’s soaked with oil,” said Smith. “I can’t even go into the basement, the fumes are so strong.”

And what can be done about the floor joists? “We don’t know.”


FEMA, firefighters, bodyworkers

All through the crisis and beyond, the town’s volunteer fire department have been hard at work, rescuing stranded people, pumping out basements, and coordinating with county, state, and federal personnel at the Phoenicia fire house, which has served as a command post for recovery activities. The department’s women have made breakfast, lunch, and dinner freely available at the fire house for residents and workers alike. “The firefighters have been tremendous, every fireman, every department,” said supervisor Rob Stanley.

He also praised men from the Ulster County Sheriff’s office who have been consistently on hand, including undersheriff Frank Faluotico; Sgt. Perry Soule, who got information to the public when no phones or Internet were functioning; and Sgt. C. J. Polacco, who was in charge of logistics. “When somebody said, ‘We need whatever,’ he’d figure out how to get it,” said Stanley.

The Red Cross has been present, with workers from as far away as Florida handing out hot meals, cases of water, and buckets of cleaning supplies to residents mucking out their homes. Although town water was at first tested as drinkable, by Monday, contamination and sediment had rendered it unfit to drink, so bottles of spring water have been distributed throughout the water district.

FEMA is also in town, encouraging people whose homes were damaged to go online at or to visit their representatives at Belleayre to register with the federal agency, which will evaluate eligibility for monetary assistance to make repairs.

A crew of bodyworkers, organized by Woodstock chiropractor Emily Bobson, set up at Phoenicia’s Parish Hall on Monday to offer free massage and chiropractic to workers.

The Phoenicia Methodist Church has received copious donations of clothing, household goods, and toiletries, and they invite anyone in need of these items to come and take them. The church is open this week from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 29 Church Street and will remain open as long as needed, said volunteer Adrienne Sorensen. She said furniture is being collected for distribution at the former tool-renting store on Route 28, west of Phoenicia. Check with Rotary members next to Key Bank on Main Street for details.++

— Violet Snow