, Salem, MA


August 27, 2012

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


He spent $7,000 to have a propane generator installed — an investment that paid off this summer when a severe wind storm knocked out power for four days. His lights stayed on, and his 9-year-old son could still play video games.

“I was like a hero to my family,” he said.

Medved, like many others, found a way to manage disaster rather than flee it. That is also true in the hard-hit towns in the mountains of Vermont and New York, where roots can run deep.

In the Catskills, Schreiber said she wouldn’t think of relocating her Windham Spa from its quaint ski town, but also realizes “you can’t stop 20 inches of rain from falling.” She rents down the street from her old location and plans a permanent move to a property nearby that is not so flood-prone.

Governors in the Irene-ravaged states — likely mindful of President George W. Bush’s plunging poll numbers after the government’s criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — became visibly active before the first raindrops fell.

With prodding from statehouses, storm-ripped roads in Vermont and New York were repaired at a breakneck pace. Cars were back on the main route to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks, Route 73, within 15 days. Route 9 in southern Vermont was reopened in 11 days.

Shumlin said Vermont got the big things right in reacting to Irene, but he still sees room for improvement.

He mentioned the installation of larger road culverts and redesigning basements to let floodwater flow through. Vermont also has stepped up efforts to build redundant government computer networks after a close call during Irene.

Even in New York City, where Irene is viewed as the storm that wasn’t, it still gave officials a trial run for their hurricane plan.

Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations, said Irene was useful for working the kinks out of the city’s plan. For example, with the first evacuation order under way, officials discovered supply pallets delivered to schools being used as shelters were too wide to get through some doors.

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