KEENE VALLEY — Tropical Storm Irene hit the Town of Keene hard causing the greatest recorded damage since the mid-19th Century. Monday morning residents woke to find their fire station ripped in half, nearly a half dozen bridges washed out, homes destroyed and every town road suffering damage primarily caused by flooding. Fortunately no lives were lost, but the cost to restore public and private property will be in the millions.
“I just started assessing the town,” said Tony Lavigne of the Essex County Highway Department after climbing back up on Beede Road after inspecting the Phelps Brook Bridge. “So far I know of two bridges lost, the one in St. Huberts and Johns Brook. Damages are county-wide, actually much of the eastern half of the state, Vermont, Delaware and North Carolina was hit hard. The flooding is way worse than this past spring and much more wide spread. All 18 towns in Essex County have suffered damage.”
In Keene Valley the northern half of the hamlet beginning at the Mountaineer was underwater with state Route 73 turning into a branch of the Ausable River with many homes flooded and people having to be evacuated from their homes Sunday afternoon. McDonough’s Valley Hardware suffered severe flood-damage as did many homes with the Ash family again losing livestock and propane gas tanks. Most of lower Beede Road was under water. The attempt to evacuate Marcy Neville, who lives out across from Airport Road, ended with the rescuee rescuing her would be rescuers as their high tech boat conked out and she had to ferry them back to higher ground in her shell.
Monday morning found the approaches to the John’s Brook Bridge washed out leaving those living in Adrian’s Acres and up towards the Garden stranded until a side wood road could be opened after the river subsided.
“The river came up at least 20 feet,” said Norm Reynolds, who lives near the John’s Brook Bridge. “The water was up and over the bridge. I have never seen it like this. It came up mid morning yesterday. It sounded like thunder. All the rocks rolling down the river sounded like the final of a Fourth of July fireworks.”
“This is the worst damage I have ever seen,” said Bruce Reed Highway Superintendent. “Remember when you were asking me last spring if that flood was worse than the one in ’96, this is much worse. This was the size of those disasters you see on TV. Now we know what the people in the south went through. I have never seen damage like this before in my life. The John’s Brook Bridge survived as well as it did because it was a wooden bridge pinned to the ledge otherwise it would be gone.”
“I have never seen it so bad,” said Reed. “The fire house in Keene is gone. Five feet of water went through the new coffee shop in Keene. The roads to Placid, south to the Northway and north to Jay are all closed. We lost five bridges that I know of so far. The St. Huberts Bridged collapsed. The old Iron Bridge on Hulls Falls Road is gone. One or two the camps on Styles Brook are gone. East Hill is impassible. I have never seen such devastation.”
“I was going to the Noonmark for breakfast,” said Bill Pelham looking down at the chasm that opened up where the approach to the bridge once had been.
“How is up on Raccoon Ridge?” said Reed.
“Fine,” said Pelham. “Roads aren’t too bad.”
“Good. Saves me from going up,” said Reed. “I thought ’95 was bad. It was nothing compared to this. Gristmill is gone. How do you pin point where to start? You start closest to whatever gravel pit you have and work out from there. Lacy Road Bridge is gone. 73 South is washed out in two places. If you got to get out of Dodge, go to Westport and head south. All Town of Keene Roads are closed.”
“The water came up fast,” said Jeff Smith who lived on the Adrian’s Acres side of the bridge. “In the morning the water was about 4 feet below the bridge, and then 30 or 40 minutes later it was over the bridge. Then the logs hit. I could feel the vibration in my house. The water looked like the Colorado River coming down. It was this dark brown. It sounded like thunder.”