It is hard not to harken back to August 2011 and the devastation the region endured at the hands of Tropical Storm Irene when viewing the images coming from the 15 Colorado counties most impacted by the recent violent flooding there.
Stories and photos shared on Facebook by loved ones and friends in Colorado are heart-wrenching. The news is tragic and the story is still unfolding.
Five people have been confirmed dead after 15 inches of rain pounded Colorado non-stop for nearly a week. As of Monday afternoon, 1,200 people remained cut off from the outside world with no electricity and dwindling supplies of food and running water.
State emergency officials say the death toll is expected to rise as rescue efforts into mountainous backcountry areas have been severely hindered by the wet weather. Roadways and bridges have crumbled by the rising flood waters, which cover more than 2,000 square miles across 15 counties — an area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island.
To date, nearly 19,000 homes have been damaged, with at least 1,500 destroyed and 11,000 people have been evacuated.
President Obama signed a major disaster declaration last weekend, ordering federal aid for the flood-ravaged state, and the Colorado National Guard is at the scene, using 20 helicopters to rescue people trapped by washed-out roads and bridges. Most had been grounded, however, by heavy rains, fog and hampered visibility.
It’s been two years since the North Country endured similar conditions following Tropical Storm Irene. People here are still rebuilding and awaiting the final buyout of homes destroyed by Irene. Images of that fateful storm that were published in this newspaper are eerily similar to photos being circulated on news wires from Colorado, with homes underwater and people trapped by disintegrated roads and other infrastructure.
In comparison, Tropical Storm Irene dumped upwards of 10 inches of rain on the North Country, much of it in less than a 24-hour period, combined with winds of 69 mph at its center — just 5 mph slower than needed for hurricane status. The storm caused 10 deaths, left 1.1 million people without power and caused $1.3 billion in damages.
Locally, the communities of Au Sable Forks, Keene, Jay and Upper Jay were some of the hardest hit, although few communities escaped the storm’s wrath. Like in Colorado, President Obama declared a disaster declaration, paving the way for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York National Guard was on site to help devastated communities recover.
Blame it on global warming, natural weather cycles or just plain rotten luck, few would argue that our weather has gotten more and more extreme as of late. One hundred year floods seem to be commonplace these days and our aging infrastructure is not liking it. With that in mind, it is imperative that initiatives such as Gov. Cuomo’s NY Rising Communities be put in place to help communities rebuild in such a way that they are better prepared for the next severe weather incident.
If there is one thing history has shown us, it is that the North Country will undoubtedly face again the type of devastating flooding Coloradans are now experiencing. The only way to mitigate the damage is to be realistic in that it will happen again, and begin preparations now knowing where the majority of the damage occurred in the past.
While the up to $6 million pledged to the North Country under the governor’s NY Rising Communities initiative is a start, it is but a drop in the bucket toward the money needed to shore up the stream banks, bridges, roadways and other pieces of infrastructure that will be impacted by the next severe weather event.
In the meantime, on a local level, it is vital to support your first responders as well as the American Red Cross — the individuals who will be at the forefront of coming to your aid.
Just as disaster workers from the American Red Cross were deployed here in the North Country in August 2011, the group is now in Colorado, providing food and shelter to those affected by the flooding.
More than 250 trained Red Cross disaster workers are currently deployed to Colorado, along with more than 20 emergency response vehicles and six trucks of relief supplies. Working with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Red Cross has served more than 7,100 meals and snacks. Earlier last week, as many as 1,000 people stayed in 24 shelters across the state.
People can help by donating to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by visiting www.redcross.org; calling 1-800-REDCROSS; or simply texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. You can also check on the status of a loved one by visiting www.safeandwell.org.
People on a national scale came to the aid of New York state and the North Country following Tropical Storm Irene. It is time we return the favor.