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September 7, 2011

Page 1


You can see on you-tube the devastation left by Irene in Windham, my hometown in the Catskills—the scary rise of the water from one side of the valley to the other, its speed forcing the brown house up against the Church Street bridge, cars submerged, two school buses swept down Main Street. Class three rapids, no sign of land, each house an island, including my mom and dad’s large old home. Our neighbor had left a message, “It’s still standing.” Though that gave me a clue, it didn’t prepare me as my husband and I drove through town: ten-foot ditches where the sidewalks had been, street lamps bent or gone, a macadam driveway on a neighbor’s lawn, porches wrecked, piles of furniture and garbage lining the street. There was no house not hit. At Church Street, the police and National Guard had set up a barrier: no one allowed in but residents. Apparently the lower end of town, our end, was worse.

Our neighbor had told us that the creek had diverted, aiming right toward the back of our house (where the water marks reached 47 inches high). So we knew the place had been hit from both front and back. Still, as we approached, I made the small sounds people make when they’re stunned. There was no lawn left—only what looked like a pond bordered by a vast stretch of mud and piles of silt. Someone’s car trailer was smashed up against the birch tree, tangled with a wooden beam and some unrecognizable metal. The large porch off the kitchen sagged, a post gone and most of the railing. I was thankful Mom and Dad were dead.

My sister Carol and her husband had arrived about an hour earlier. Carol took me by the hand and led me around the back. It was a moonscape of mud—with a single bit of green under the cedars, a patch of grass four or five feet square. The deck around the pool had been lifted and jammed against the maple, over a cap to someone’s pick-up. Our neighbor’s shed had landed nearby. With water on its one side and the shed on the other, the deck looked like a dilapidated dock during low-tide. The pool house was knocked over; remnants of fencing were clogged with debris.

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