Irene may have seemed like more of a hurrican't when she tangoed through NYC, but upstate and New England got clobbered. Though downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it arrived in the Northeast, Irene's path of destruction was wide, with winds gusting as fast as 60 mph in some areas. (A storm reaches Category 1 hurricane status when wind speeds surpass 74 mph.) There was record flooding throughout the region, and the Times Union, which has a stunning photo spread of the destruction, reports that Cuomo described Irene's impact as "a tale of two New Yorks, a downstate that was spared and an upstate that was ravaged."
After a helicopter tour of the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys yesterday, Cuomo told reporters, "The amount of damage is devastating, and it will get worse before it gets better." But he also maintained that officials did everything they could have done. "I don't know what you can do even in retrospect about record rainfall and record flooding," he said. "Mother Nature wins at the end of the day." Human stupidity wins too; so many motorists and individuals chose to ignore officials' warnings and drive through closed flood zones that acting Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple told the Times Union, "We've done nothing for the last day and a half but rescue people who were not thinking."
In the Capital District area, many streets in Schenectady's historic Stockade neighborhood (which is prone to flooding after even a normal storm) were completely submerged by the Mohawk River. Yesterday afternoon low-lying homes in Colonie, Niskayuna and Vischer Ferry were evacuated when the Vischer Ferry Power Dam was at risk of washing away, and the Times Union reports that a 100-foot state dredge barge broke loose from its mooring and drifted down the Mohawk River. The Northway's Twin Bridges were shutdown for fears the barge would crash into a bridge support, but fortunately it ran aground on a sandbar.
Nobody was getting out of Albany by train yesterday, but taxis idling outside the Albany-Rensselaer station were doing brisk business. One cabbie tells the Times Union he took a fare to NYC, a two-and-a-half hour drive south. "We took a family to Manhattan, to NYU. It was a mother and daughter, and it was her first day of school tomorrow," he said. The fare was $425." The nearby city of Troy was heavily flooded, and officials were concerned that the Poestenkill Creek dam above the town of 50,000 would break. Parts of the city were evacuated, but the dam held. The Troy Record has dramatic photos of the flooding, which also shut down the beloved Dinosaur BBQ.
Further downstate, many quiet Catskills towns are in ruins. In Prattsville, Irene tore apart homes, flooded streets, and churned up the 19th century graveyard. Town Supervisor Kory O’Hara saw his O’Hara’s service station, which had been in his family for five generations, get swept away by the swollen Schoharie Creek. Asked what happened to his business, O'Hara, 34, told the Times it was "in the reservoir. Everything’s gone. My life is gone. Main Street, Prattsville, is a total loss at this point. We just don’t know where we’re headed. I don’t know if there’s anybody in the town of Prattsville who can answer that question."
On Governor Cuomo's Flickr page, you'll find sensational videos of flooding upstate.