September 1, 2012

Irene brought death along with destruction


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Tropical Storm Irene took more than buildings and land when it struck the North Country.

The monster storm also claimed two lives.

Danine R. Swamp, 24, of Nedrow and Mikita Fox, 23, of Wikemikong, Ontario, died shortly after midnight on Aug., 29, 2011, when their car plunged into the Great Chazy River from Devil’s Den Road in Altona, where the storm had washed out a bridge.

Swamp had been a student at Clinton Community College, where she studied math and science from fall 2009 to spring 2011.

She was a standout pitcher on the college’s women’s softball team and earned the title of Intercollegiate Softball Most Valuable Player in 2010-11.

“She was an important part of the campus community, active in sports and also a member of the Honor Society, so what a tragedy that she died in that natural disaster,” Clinton Community College President John Jablonski said this week. 

“It’s just a reminder that sometimes things happen so suddenly.”

Many other casualties were averted when the powerful remnants of Hurricane Irene swept through the region, as emergency responders rescued people from fast-flooding homes.


People in the North Country weren’t sure what was approaching, as forecasts wavered between the words hurricane, tropical storm, tropical depression and subtropical depression.

“The classification of the storm does not make a difference,” Clinton County Deputy Administrator Rodney Brown said. “It’s about the amount of damage caused.”

Irene, for the record, was classified as a Category 1 Hurricane when it landed in North Carolina on Aug. 27.

As it made its way up the East Coast and impacted the North Country, it was downgraded to a tropical storm, according to the National Weather Service.

The downgrade was based on wind speeds. Tropical storms feature winds between 39 and 73 mph. Anything above 74 mph is considered a hurricane.

Still, even with the downgrade, Irene packed a powerful punch in the area, swelling rivers and streams, wiping out homes, barns, trees, roads, bridges and power lines over a wide path.

In just two days, the National Weather Service in Burlington measured more than 7 inches of rain in parts of Essex and Clinton counties. Most areas saw between 3 and 6 inches. 

As of Aug. 30, 2011, Keene had seen 11 inches of rain.

Here’s how it all unfolded:


By late afternoon on Sunday, Aug. 28, as much as 4.5 inches of rain fell.

At 4:30 p.m., the Ausable River in Keene Valley spilled over its banks. Evacuation began; a shelter was set up in Keene Town Hall.

Palmer Street in AuSable Forks was completely underwater. The Community Center was made an emergency shelter; another was set up at the Keeseville Fire Station.

In the Elizabethtown hamlet of New Russia, firefighters rescued 1-year-old Zane McCoy and his grandparents Paul and Dawn McCoy by boat after the Boquet River marooned them in their home. Relentless rain also flooded Barton Brook where the Water Street bridge connect to Route 9 in Elizabethtown.

The storm washed out nearly a mile of Lincoln Pond Road, a main route to Elizabethtown Community Hospital. 


The power was out and computers down at the Plattsburgh International Airport for hours; hundreds were stranded when flights were canceled.

Dozens of trees and power lines fell, several trees crashed onto cars and houses; some people were trapped inside homes, one in Dannemora.

Flooding along Route 3 in Cadyville inundated homes; a 100-year-old poplar tree fell across Route 3 there, blocking traffic for 24 hours.

In Keene, the east branch of Ausable River flooded Main Street, leaving it in ruins. Roads washed out, buildings crumbled under the onslaught of water, and the Keene Fire Station was destroyed.

Gulf Brook Bridge at “Y” turn to Route 9N in Keene was broken in two, and a 30-foot section of Hurricane Road washed away.

Emergency personnel struggled to reach accidents and fires because of downed trees and power lines on roadways.

In Keene and AuSable Forks, basements flooded, houses were ripped off their foundations.

At least 15 people were rescued in Keene and Keene Valley.


The National Guard deployed 20 troops to Jay to rescue trapped people; more would join them later.

By 6:40 p.m., National Grid and NYSEG listed a combined 20,293 people without power in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties, including in Saranac Lake, Bloomingdale and Tupper Lake.

Essex and Clinton counties and the Town of Jay declared states of emergency.

More than 80 homes incurred major damage when the hamlet of AuSable Forks was split by the Ausable River.


The storm blew through, leaving the monumental task of cleanup and repair.

Thousands of homes were still without power the next few days.

More than 100 roads remained closed in Essex County. Heavy equipment could not reach many places because of damaged roadways.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured the Keene area and established the Upstate Storm and Flooding Recovery Task Force. 

By midweek, President Barack Obama declared New York state a disaster area. Before long, Federal Emergency Management Agency sites were set up, and storm victims were urged to fill out the paperwork to get the ball rolling for possible aid.

As of Sept. 8, structure casualties included, in Essex County, 30 homes destroyed, 73 with major damage and 13 less scarred by the storm.

Many businesses were affected as well; Red Barn Antiques in Upper Jay was one, with 99 percent of its merchandise valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars wiped out. 

In Clinton County, one home was destroyed, 105 had major damage and six others had less severe issues.

Neighbor helped neighbor, strangers pitched in at cleanup sessions in AuSable Forks, Keeseville, Keene.

Just seven days after the storm, 7 miles of Route 73 leading to Keene that had been destroyed flooding was reopened by Gov. Cuomo.

The initial engineering report had said the work would take two months.

And the recovery effort continued.

Overcoming Irene

A year after the massive Tropical Storm, the North Country is still picking up the pieces. This is the last in a series of articles catching up with those who found themselves in the center of the storm as victims and rescuers and what life post-Irene has brought them.