It was a year ago that Hurricane Irene made its way up the east coast of our country before finally hitting New York State and the Capital Region on Sunday, August 28, 2011.
Green Island emergency management officials , headed up by Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan, Executive Assistant to the Mayor and Emergency Management Administrator Sean Ward, Police Chief Chris Parker and Fire Chief Bob Bourgeois, had met throughout the previous week with department heads and Albany County officials to discuss the potential for wind damage, possible basement flooding and power outages. However, none predicted that major flooding would have been our biggest concern. As it turned out it was.
Soon after the wind calmed down and the rain started to let up, reports started coming in that areas of Schoharie and southwestern Albany County were washed out from flood waters. Green Island officials, using data generated from the National Weather Service, immediately put our action plan in place to prepare for a potential flood in Green Island. The data was predicting flood waters of up to 30 feet above sea level to start coming toward Green Island with a crest approximately 20-24 hours later. This would have put most of Green Island under water had it occurred. Department Heads were notified by late afternoon that all employees were to be called in to work immediately and to be prepared for a long period of work. Director of Recreation Maggie Alix put out a blast text message to her volunteer contact list. DPW Commissioner Tony Cesare started moving loads of sand into position for bagging operations. This created a social media stir on Facebook that resulted in 89 volunteers showing up at Heatly School in a half hours time to help sandbag for potential flooding. Former Congressman Mike McNulty showed up and was immediately put to work using his connections at the Watervliet Arsenal to secure much needed sandbags and equipment. The volunteers worked for hours shoveling and filling the bags so that our school would be protected from the flood waters. When they finished that task, the same volunteers passed out flyers to all residents in the Village to let them know of a voluntary evacuation. Thanks to the efforts of Cohoes Mayor John McDonald an American Red Cross shelter was set up at Cohoes High School for those that had no alternative means of housing. This outpouring of community support was reported all over the world thanks to an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal on August 30, 2011 and another published in Heatly exchange student Chiara Fedeli’s hometown in Italy (see below). Chiara was staying with Anita and Larry Brown and family and was only in Green Island for a few days when Irene hit. We put her to work quickly.
The next day, all that we could do is wait and see what would happen as the water raised up. Emergency management officials were aware of the lowest points in the Village and as the water rose up took action immediately. Lower Hudson Avenue and Albany Avenue were the first two streets to be affected. The water crept up from the Mohawk Basin in the morning prompting the closure of both roads into Watervliet. Village Plaza was forced to evacuate and close for the day. Due to rising water and heavy debris floating down the river and hitting its piers, including 13 large boats that broke loose from a marina during the night, the decision was made to close the Green Island Bridge to all traffic too. This shut down the southern portion of the Village.
In the meantime, spectators curious to see the quickly expanding river were unknowingly causing traffic jams and were too close to dangerous areas where flooding was occurring. This in turn caused manpower issues and prompted a call to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple to ask for assistance with traffic. They responded with plenty of help and coupled with the efforts of our Green Island Police were able to work together to set up traffic checkpoints in the northern end of town and close the River Park after it became too dangerous to allow people to view from there.
As the afternoon went on, a few homes were becoming dangerously close to being flooded. A home on Hudson Avenue had water from the Hudson River come into their basement. Firefighters evacuated the residents of the home and power was shut down. Also the home at the corner of Swan and John Streets had water from the Mohawk Basin rise into their back yard. Firefighters and Publics Works crews sandbagged the resident’s driveway so that the water would be diverted away from the home. Fortunately no major damage occurred at any residence.
By mid afternoon water had risen into the Heatly School yard. Pine and Walnut Streets near Mullins Rigging in the south end were covered with water from the Mohawk Basin, which was also coming close to flooding over Cohoes Avenue at the dyke, which would have left us with only one means of egress and ingress to and from the Village. Water also flowed over the former Ford Motor Company site. At Silhouette Optical the parking lot flooded and the docks at their boathouse were severely damaged.
Fortunately for us, that is where it ended. By evening the water had peaked and was starting to recede. Our school saw minor damage but was saved by a determined group of individuals that showed up in the pouring rain to sandbag. Residents were very cooperative with our voluntary evacuation and our traffic and pedestrian restrictions. There was no major damage to residences. The only business damage reported was to the dance studio on Lower Hudson Avenue which resulted in a severely flooded basement area.
There was some damage to some of our municipal infrastructure. Center Island was completely flooded over causing loss of water to the Village for a few days. Fortunately we were able to use alternative backup water from the City of Cohoes. Damage was done to the water pump house including wires and circuits inside. Debris remains as a sign that we are still cleaning up. GIPA suffered large losses at the Hydroelectric Plant on Tibbits Avenue including the bladders on the dam. Cost estimates for the replacement of the bladders exceed $2 million.
School, GIPA and Village officials have worked many hours with FEMA and SEMO to seek recovery costs over the last year. The school and Village have both recently closed all projects with them and have been reimbursed for damages done. GIPA was paid for cleanup of debris but the loss for the bladders has not been paid yet and continues to be a large loss for GIPA.
All in all we are very thankful that our losses were minimal and that we have a community made up of such caring people who showed how great we can be when adversity strikes. And a few days later the concerts went on as scheduled at the GIG and although threatened, she stood tall in the end.
The following is a letter from Mayor Ellen McNulty-Ryan to the residents of our community on August 31, 2011:
There are no words to express my sincere gratitude to all who helped keep our tiny village safe from the wrath of Mother Nature. With information changing minute to minute and not knowing if the waters would just lap at our walls or cover our entire community, we worked with Albany County’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Captain John Layton, and Sheriff Craig Apple to try and prepare for the worst. Our Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Public Works, Recreation Department, Water Department and Green Island Power Authority employees are second to none. Every department went above and beyond. Heatly Superintendent, Dr. Mike Mugits, worked with us to enlist volunteers to come to the school and fill sandbags to protect the lower level of the school from the raging Hudson River. Electronic notices went out via Facebook and the school notification system and in 15 minutes we had 70 people lining up to help on Sunday night. After the sandbagging was done, those same volunteers went and rang every doorbell in Green Island distributing flyers notifying residents what to do. We took every precaution to keep our residents safe and it paid off.
On Tuesday morning, after the river had receded, my Executive Assistant, Sean Ward, and I went to the Albany County Emergency Management Center in Cohoes for a briefing. We knew beforehand that we had been lucky, but after hearing first hand of the devastation that had occurred all around us, we realized that we must have had a little angel protecting us. I know who she is and I hope she continues to watch over us.