Nearly 10 inches of rain that doused the area this weekend crippled community power lines and roads days after Hurricane Irene touched down in New Paltz, residents and local officials said.
Town Supervisor Toni Hokanson said that the hurricane, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm, was the most extensive emergency she’s seen in New Paltz. She said as local officials continued to monitor the storm, they suggested evacuations for residents living near Springtown Road, Water Street and other areas near the Wallkill River, some of which have yet to return to flooded homes.
The river peaked at a historic 19.4 foot height in 1955, which Mayor Jason West said had water lapping up to the asphalt on the bridge. West said flood level predictions from the U.S. Geological Survey and other sources suggested the storm could have crushed the record, with some reports suggesting that the river could have crested at 25.4 feet.
“That would have been six or some odd feet over the pavement by the bridge on the Wallkill River,” he said. “There was a decent chance that, had that happened, we might have lost the bridge.”
The flooding and destruction caused by the rain and wind gusts that downed trees and power lines left thousands of residents and SUNY New Paltz without electricity days later. Of the 35,000 Central Hudson Gas and Electric corporation customers that are still without power as of press time, company officials said 23,891 reside in Ulster County.
Although power has been restored to most of the village, according to West, Hokanson said hundreds residing in the town’s borders are still without electricity. However, she said the emergency management plan adopted by local officials and the efforts of recovery workers continue to be exemplary and she’s thankful.
“Thousands of residents lost power and countless homes were flooded – but fortunately, we have no reported storm-related loss of life or serious injuries,” she said. “I actually learned today that were no fatalities in Ulster County related to the storm, which is a great relief.”
Hokanson and West said certain measures they instituted in several joint executive orders issued during and after the storm were meant to keep students and residents safe while trees continued to fall and the Wallkill River crested at 18.9 feet. Provisions included a ban on pedestrian and vehicular traffic, a ban on the sale of alcohol on Sunday and a curfew from 7 p.m. extending to 5 a.m. Monday morning.
As local students, families and others “ignored” the traffic restrictions and emerged from their homes and residence halls to survey the damage, Hokanson said, local officials worried that rising waters and any falling trees could have hurt curious onlookers.
“We could not deal with a crisis where hundreds of people were getting hurt at once. We did the only thing we could do to keep people safe and the curfew was a huge success,” she said. “If we saved at least one child, it was worth it.”
Aside from lingering damage to roadways, power lines and water-logged homes, the sewage system in the village also flooded and is still not operating. West said until the system is repaired, waste will remain untreated.
Residents like Ira Margolis said the condition of the sewage system after Hurricane Irene hit the village was not the first time he and his neighbors had seen problems with it.
“Once again, my community was inundated with sewage and water,” he said. “There is something wrong with the whole system.”
West said while there were “manholes that blew like geysers” this weekend, the sewage system could be operational near the end of the week.
On the SUNY New Paltz campus, Internet access has been restored in spite of flooding in the basement of Haggerty Administration Building that houses information technology and telecommunications operations. The basement of the administration building and the Student Union remain closed until further notice, according to President Donald Christian, in addition to the Atrium. The offices of financial aid, records and registration and student accounts have been relocated to the South Classroom Building so operations can be continued while flood damage is repaired.
In an official statement to the campus community, Christian said that after stand in calf deep flood waters, remarkable that we have regained various capabilities as of Wednesday.
“We are all grateful for the hard work, long hours, and careful attention that our employees and consultants have shown in the past few days to achieve these results,” he said. “We have regained many functions, but problems will undoubtedly remain and some things will not work as we would like. This is the normal path for such recovery operations. Time will be needed to identify and fix these remaining issues.”