This is Not at All Medieval

03 Sep

I have previously said this website would be reserved for Medieval History, or at least stuff related to it. I’m going to break that today for one post.

My home community of Schoharie County, New York, was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene last Sunday. The Schoharie Valley was completely flooded by several feet of water as over 10 inches of rain fell in a few hours in that area and in the Northern Catskills, which is drained by the Schoharie Creek. 1

This area is prone to flooding, folks there have dealt with those in the past and when the first reports came in last weekend with items such as, “This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” I initially passed those off as media hype.

They weren’t.

The Schoharie Valley before and after Irene

It was obvious from the pictures coming in on Sunday that the water was higher than it had ever been before – the homes and farms in the lower right of the pictures have not flooded in the past, as far as I know. What wasn’t obvious until I saw pictures and video the following day was the force of this flood. My memory of floods in the Schoharie valley is that while the water in the creek moves swiftly, that in the flood plain does not. It generally starts rising, moving fairly gently downstream. This time floodwaters a half mile or more from the creek were moving at 50-60 miles an hour. I’ve seen images of buildings, beyond where floodwaters usually reach, which look like someone had hit them with rockets – one side of the building is blown in, while the downstream side is blown out.

It’s hard for me to quantify the damage; I’m sure assessments are ongoing. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the two largest towns in the valley, Middleburgh and Schoharie, historical towns settled in the early 1700’s, were devastated.

The main road into Middleburgh, above, and Bridge Street, a back way into Schoharie, below

In the valley I’ve been told that 75% of the homes are unlivable – I’ve been hearing that they expect them to be condemned but I hope this means you can’t live in them now but they can be repaired.

Schoharie county has an interesting geography. A good chunk of it is valley, with a low point of 520 feet (158 m) elevation. The Southern portion of the county is in the Catskills which consists of an escarpment, generally over 2000 feet (600 m) and elevations as high as over 3200 feet (980 m). All of this drains into the Schoharie Creek. Along the side roads running down from the mountains, small drainage ditches along minimally improved roads became torrents, eating away at the roads and destroying homes.

A home, or what’s left of it, along a side road

You can find additional pictures here.

This is not a wealthy place and it’s in trouble. Donations of supplies have flooded into the community, which is great, and I think everyone’s being fed. The problem is, as of yesterday (September 2) over 7,000 people out of a county of about 30,000, remained without power. I would guess that this is roughly equal to the number of people who are homeless and housed in various shelters, schools, etc. I have no doubt there will be federal assistance but federal assistance isn’t designed to return things to how they were – it’s designed to get people to where they can help themselves recover. This recovery will be slow.

USGS Water flow data for Breakabeen, located just upstream from Middleburgh. The previous record flow rate for this site was 4420 cubic feet/second in 2003. The gauge height in the same period jumped from under 5 feet to over 20.

Everyone has problems and we all have groups and causes we donate to. However if anyone would like to make a donation, the Schoharie County Community Action Program has established a flood relief fund. Include “flood fund” in the memo portion of your check made out to “SCCAP” and send to:

Schoharie County Community Action Program
795 East Main Street,Suite 5
Cobleskill, NY 12043

If you live closer to the area, this page has other ways to help. As a caution, quite often sending “stuff” is less helpful because not everyone needs everything. I believe, for example, many donation sites have stopped taking used clothing. Perishable “stuff” like soap, shampoo, hygiene items, toilet paper, etc. are usually more in need.

I was hoping to get back there this weekend and stay through next week to help but that will have to wait for a few weeks from now. Schoharie County is certainly not the only rural area impacted. Several neighboring counties were also hit pretty hard and Vermont has also suffered, badly.

There is a very significant, almost miraculous bright spot in all this. When the water began to arrive, there was an evacuation of the valley for fear of a dam upstream failing. This involved evacuation sirens and local law enforcement going door-to-door. No lives were lost in Schoharie County, though much else was.

This isn’t medieval but I felt compelled to post it. Things are not good back home. I’ll return to medieval topics before long.

1 My family lives in another area of the county and is fine – a lot of water ran down the hill but their road didn’t wash out and their power was restored relatively quickly.


Posted by on September 3, 2011 in Not Really Medieval



4 responses to “This is Not at All Medieval

  1. Alexandra

    September 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    How could you not address an event that devastating? Thanks for including concrete ways to help out a community in need, and best wishes for the recovery ahead.

  2. Curt Emanuel

    September 14, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks Alexandra. Still a lot to clean up and the remnants of Lee flooded things again but people are taking care of each other pretty well, though there have been a few scammers.

  3. Jan Kees Mol

    October 3, 2011 at 6:49 am

    I (living in Europe) didn't know about the impact of Irene, or Lee, in upstate New York. All coverage here is about the coast, and NYC. I hope recovery is coming along, and wish you strength.Also neither Medieval, nor relevant, but historically interesting: some pics of Middelburg, The Netherlands (my home town) in similar straits in 1944. a natural disaster then, war damage)

  4. Curt Emanuel

    October 4, 2011 at 2:34 am

    Some of it's going to take a while. The state recently closed a minimum security prison nearby so apparently some people will end up spending the winter there. Supposedly the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) is bringing in manufactured homes to house more people. But so far it seems that everyone's being fed and has a roof so it could be worse. Thanks for the thoughts – I'm not there myself but it's still home.


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