, Salem, MA


August 27, 2012

After the rain: Irene's lessons to the East Coast

Antonia Schreiber is taking no chances on the next big storm.

The remnants of Hurricane Irene turned the 200-year-old building that housed her Catskill Mountains spa boutique into a muddy mess a year ago in Windham, N.Y. She managed to reopen in the same town within months — but this time on higher ground.

“If it happens once, history has a tendency to repeat itself, and I hope it’s a long, long time from now,” Schreiber said, “but that’s not a chance I want to take again.”

Hard lessons have been learned in the year since Irene sent sedans bobbing down rivers, swept away historic covered bridges, put millions in the dark and killed dozens of people along the Eastern Seaboard. Responses range from personal gestures, like buying a home generator, to statewide policy changes, like the tightening of utility regulations.

Many of the reactions are based on the belief that while Irene surprised areas more used to blizzards than tropical weather, future storms are inevitable.

“Our question for Vermont is: What did we learn from Irene that we would do again and would put us in a better position with future storms in a climate-change future?” said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who scrambled after the storm hit his state Aug. 28 to help hill towns cut off from the world.

As Irene made landfall in North Carolina and roared up the East Coast, a densely populated corridor loaded with high-rises, suburban sprawl and pricey beach homes, officials in New York City and Long Island braced for storm surges and heavy winds by evacuating low-lying coastal areas and shutting down one of the world’s largest subway systems.

The storm made a direct hit on New York City as a tropical storm, but damage there — and in other big cities such as Philadelphia and Boston — was minimal. That gave many Easterners the impression that the much-feared storm was a dud.

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