A United States flag hangs near a washed out section of US 4 in Killington, Vt, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011.AP2011
Traveling down the Hudson River from Upstate New York, the fury of Hurricane Irene is in your face everywhere. Like a scene out of Pirates of the Caribbean, the river is jammed with the hulls of spooky, half-sunken boats covered in muck and tree limbs. There are football field-sized floating islands of flotsam and jetsam everywhere; plastic garbage, parts of houses and broken piers trapped by these vast green slimy islands of vegetation.
The ugly masses are evidence of the devastation wrought around the creeks that dump into the Hudson River. Those usually insignificant waterways are gushers today, giant outlets shooting enormous quantities of runoff into the big river that serves as America’s Grand Canal.
Ironically, like most boaters in and around New York Harbor, I sought refuge for my old sailboat as far away as possible from what was expected to be Ground Zero of the widespread storm, the Battery in Lower Manhattan. Ending up in Shadow’s Marina in Poughkeepsie about fifty miles upriver from the Statue of Liberty, I thought Voyager was as safe as I could make her. Then the damn storm leapfrogged over the City and landed ferociously on top of the rural area around the New York/Vermont boundary.
Voyager got rocked, but not like the communities 20 miles northeast along the state line. While winds there never topped 60 MPH, the rainfall was Biblical. Roads became rivers or were rendered impassable by collapsing cliffs and landslides. Homes were washed away by flooding the State police called “epic.” 13 Vermont towns were so cut-off from the outside world they had to be supplied by choppers flown by the Air National Guard. People were swept away by the deluge or electrocuted by fallen wires or drowned in cars they attempted to drive through flooded underpasses. Marinas reported floating bodies. In all at least 45 deaths up and down the East Coast were attributed to the huge storm, which will also be one of the top ten most expensive natural disasters ever when the butcher’s bill is finally tallied.
One of the most melancholy stories during the night the storm hit came out of the small upstate New York town of Prattsville, which was devastated. Raging flood waters destroyed most of the smaller buildings and made streets impassable.
“The whole downtown is destroyed,” one tearful resident just told me over the phone. She has twelve people sleeping in her home right now. At the height of the storm 21 people were stranded on the roof of Moore’s Motel. During my show, my cousin, Bronx-based attorney Manny Sanchez e-mailed the story of the motel’s owners, Deborah and Stephen Baker.
“Deborah and Stephen Baker, together with their four children and neighbors the Bakers had invited into their motel for safety, were forced to retreat to the roof of their motel (Moore's) to escape certain death by drowning when the Gilboa Dam failed, sending a twenty-foot wall of water toward their property. As a result of this tragedy, they have lost everything--house, motel, family cars, trucks (he is a builder of modular homes), and personal property. Right now they are destitute and homeless. They have spent a lifetime raising a family, helping in their community and building their businesses.”
Manny went on to tell me how when Pope John Paul came to NYC in 1995 to say Mass in Central Park, Stephen Baker built the Pontiff a modular house and brought it down to the city on a flatbed so the Pope could change into his vestments and have private time.
Having lost everything in the disaster, this family, known far and wide for their generosity and selflessness is destitute. They have no clothing, no means of transportation, and no way to make a living. And yet when I called up there just now, Steve was busy helping his neighbors retrieve personal items from their wrecked homes and businesses.
Those who suggest that the coverage of Hurricane Irene was hyped should remember the Baker family of Prattsville New York. I asked how people could help them directly, but the same lady who told me about downtown being gutted started crying when I asked for an address.
“The post office is gone,” she told me.
If you would like to help, contact the wonderful Red Cross; they’re fully engaged, and right on. So were governors Cuomo and Christie, and Mayor Bloomberg and the other public officials in both parties who warned the nation’s largest metropolitan area to seek higher ground. The fact Manhattan was spared doesn’t mitigate the suffering of those further removed from the big city lights. Remember Prattsville and the Baker family.
Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.