CORTLANDT, N.Y. – One year after Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Cortlandt, leaving flooding, power outages and hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, many residents and government officials count themselves as lucky.
"We got pretty lucky," said Holly Haight, chief of the Verplanck Fire Department. "We pumped out basements. I forget how many, there was a lot," she said.
"It was supposed to be a lot worse than what it was. For us it was pretty quiet until the following day when the backwinds hit up," said Rob Porter, second assistant chief of the Montrose Fire Department. "We were above and beyond ready for the storm, and fortunately it didn't pan out to what it was supposed to be."
First responders said they had plenty of time to prepare for the storm, with upward of five days to get ready before the storm hit Aug. 28, 2011. Nevertheless, it was no picnic for most residents.
In an Aug. 31, 2011, report, Consolidated Edison said Irene caused more power outages than any other storm. In New York City and Westchester County, 155,400 customers were without power for days, more than 82 percent of Con Edison's service area.
Patrice Athanasidy, a Cortlandt resident, said, "I've never seen so many plugs at Panera in my life. Everybody was charging up their equipment."
One man lost his life in the Croton River. Eight town roads closed while Cortlandt waited for Con Edison's army of contract workers to converge on Westchester County. Metro-North Railroad lines were not in service until Monday after the storm, because of flooding from Croton to Ossining and damaged electrical signals.
"D" batteries were nearly impossible to find in any store. Some residents went more than four days without power; entire refrigerators of food spoiled. Con Edison distributed dry ice, but many residents said their food had already spoiled, and that the one-bag limit wasn't much help.
Many used social media to keep in touch, and give advice on where to find milk, bottled water and batteries.
Some businesses and government offices changed the way they prepare for disasters because of Irene. Hemlock Hill Farm purchased additional generators. The Town of Cortlandt Department of Environmental Services now employs an after-hours answering service for such emergencies.
"We went out and purchased a generator. We changed a few things," said Laura DeMaria of Hemlock Hill. For weeks farmers could not go into fields to harvest crops because of flooding. Without electricity for three days, operations were crippled as one small generator was rotated between electrically operated feeders and refrigerators packed with thousands of dollars in fresh meat.
Farmers from counties north of Westchester were, in some cases, hit by more severe flooding brought by Irene. At the time, the only silver lining found by Community Markets directors was that the spoilage prompted residents to restock with goods from the market.
Glenn Cestaro, comptroller for the Town of Cortlandt, estimated the damage in the hundreds of thousands. "It wasn't just the initial damage. There are some things we're not going to get reimbursed for. We spent about $400,000 in total," he said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still processing claims, and in some cases, municipalities are still submitting them.
The one-two punch delivered by Irene and then an October nor'easter left many residents feeling the cleanup may never be finished.
"It was very overwhelming, and I think it took us until March or April before it felt like we were getting back on track from that storm," said Lee Beauchamp, deputy director of Cortlandt's Department of Environmental Services.
The storm name, Irene, has been retired.