MONTICELLO “What was unique about this particular storm was it was countywide,” County Manager David Fanslau told legislators at Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
He was, of course, speaking about Hurricane Irene, which struck the area on Sunday as a downgraded but seemingly no less intense tropical storm.
“There is at least a million dollars in damages to the county’s roads and bridges,” he estimated, though by that time every county route was open again.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials toured the county’s hardest-hit areas on Friday, expressing a willingness to help and saying there was a likelihood that the county would get federal disaster aid.
Individuals can now seek assistance from FEMA. However, whether Sullivan County and its municipalities will get public infrastructure aid remained uncertain at the time of FEMA’s damage assessment tour on Friday.
“The concern is FEMA, under its current appropriation, may run out of funds,” Fanslau warned legislators on Thursday.
Regardless, county officials said locals came shining through in Irene’s devastating wake.
“There are not enough words to thank the firefighters, county workers, police, EMS, everybody,” lauded Legislator Leni Binder. “Everyone worked together.”
Even NYSEG, with all the power outages it was struggling with, garnered praise from Legislator Alan Sorensen, who was impressed with updates from the utility via conference calls during the storm.
“I thought NYSEG was pretty responsive,” he complimented.
So was 911, said 911 Coordinator Alex Rau, despite phone problems that temporarily left dispatchers disconnected.
“We fielded nearly 2,000 calls from Saturday through Monday,” he said. “That’s about a 150 percent increase in call volume from the week before.”
Nevertheless, there was a general feeling the county had dodged the bullet which hit farther upstate.
“We got hit pretty good,” acknowledged Sheriff Michael Schiff, “but we were lucky compared to other counties.”
The only big complaint was about people unnecessarily burdening emergency responders, and not just in making non-emergency calls to 911 that should have been routed to 211.
“That was probably our biggest problem: sightseers,” Legislator Elwin Wood remarked. “I can’t emphasize enough, when we go into an emergency, stay off the roads!”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has opened toll-free telephone numbers for residents to report damage, and commence the application process for federal aid for damage to privately owned property from the impacts of Hurricane Irene.