Column: Witnessing Irene 300 miles from the sea

09/01/2011 4:42 AM |

Let us begin with a disclaimer: We (the former Joan Giger Walker and I) were not on Long Island to experience the wrath of Irene.(Although our house and debris-strewn yard certainly were. On Long Island.) Due to a previous baby-sitting commitment involving our grandchildren, ages 2 and 4, we were in the high peaks region of Adirondack Park, namely the lovely little village of Keene, N.Y.

At least it was lovely until Irene dumped 10 inches of rain there in less than 12 hours. Then all hell broke lose in the form of raging creeks and rivers coursing with way too much water to be contained by their banks. There went the two bridges connecting our daughter and son-in-law’s home to villages to the north and south. Then most of the Keene firehouse was swept into Gulf Brook.

Elsewhere in the region, a vehicle transporting two people apparently returning late at night from a Native American casino flew off a knocked-out bridge. Their bodies were recovered far downstream the following day.

Since 1953, when I was 7 and Hurricane Carol slammed into the East End, I have been fascinated by hurricanes. And counterintuitively, I never did fear these massive storms. I looked forward to them — to the awesome power of Mother Nature’s fury unleashed. (Another disclaimer: I wasn’t around for the death and destruction caused by the hurricane of 1938, which certainly would have changed my thinking.)

By the time Gloria arrived in the ’80s and Bob in the ’90s, I was getting paid (well, sort of) to cover these massive storms as a journalist, which gave me an excuse to be out there in the middle of them with camera and notebook in hand. Even in 1992, by happenstance in connection with my grandmother’s 100th birthday, we were in south Florida when the über-destructive Hurricane Andrew hit. But even then, I viewed the experience as something of an adventure.

But that was before Sunday. Today, after this is written, I will go out into our yard to clean up some leaves and downed branches. Meanwhile, up in Keene, N.Y., nearly 300 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean (!), this latest storm has altered the landscape and people’s lives forever.

Never again will I view a hurricane as an adventure.

Update on my recent columns about the hamlet of Orient having the highest percentage of same-sex households on Long Island: I’m told the longtime companions in two of those households recently were wed in separate ceremonies at Town Hall. If ever there was a fitting ending to one of my columns, that would be it.

Update on yet another recent column, this one on gridlock in Greenport: A village resident with expertise in traffic management has offered an interesting variation on the Main Street dilemma. Instead of running traffic one way from north to south, as I suggested, she suggests running it one way from south to north all the way to First Street, which in turn would run one-way south all the way to Front Street, thus improving traffic flow through the business district and eliminating the existing dangerous condition wherein northbound traffic on First Street is forced to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic in order to proceed north on Main.

It’s a thought.

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