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Eli Ruiz | Democrat
This huge pine destroyed the home of Helen (pictured) and Mahmut Bozkurt in Liberty. The tree was large enough to also damage the home of his neighbor. County Manager Dave Fanslau was told by NYSEG that the majority of customers will have power restored by midnight Sunday.
'Sandy' was no lady!
Story by Eli Ruiz
SULLIVAN COUNTY Tropical storm Sandy left her mark on the county as she quite literally blew through the region Monday evening and into Tuesday, leaving extensive damage throughout the area, and at one point, a majority of Sullivan County residents without power.
Schools and many roads were closed, and as of this writing a state of emergency was still in effect for the entire county and will continue until 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was set up by the county at the Emergency Services Training Center in White Lake. The EOC acts as a liaison between all local, state and federal agencies to get word out on any road closings and other storm developments critical to first responders and law enforcement.
“Say Route 17 is closed down for a period, it’s our responsibility to coordinate with other agencies to get the word out so that if a 911 call comes in the ambulances and if needed State Police aren’t sent out on [Route] 17 where they would face delays,” said Sullivan County Public Safety Commissioner, Dick Martinkovic.
Eighteen different Federal, State and County agencies were assembled at the EOC including the New York State Police, New York State Department of Transportation, NYS Park Service and the Red Cross.
As of Wednesday Martinkovic said that between New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), Orange and Rockland (O&R) and Central Hudson the three main utilities for the area about 34,000 county residents were still without power as of press time.
A Red Cross shelter was opened at SUNY Sullivan’s Paul Gerry Fieldhouse and was the only county shelter being utilized, according to Martinkovic.
“We had eight people stay at the shelter Monday night and we’ve got 22 staying there tonight,” said Martinkovic Tuesday evening. “We had a couple of people we had to get out of houses yesterday, but fortunately there haven’t been any fatalities or even injuries reported yet.”
Damage in Liberty
Particularly hard hit was Liberty, as a stretch of Dwyer Avenue in the village looked like a small war zone Tuesday with the street blocked off at several points by felled trees and downed power lines and at least four utility poles toppled or destroyed.
Town of Liberty Supervisor Charlie Barbuti, who lives on Dwyer Avenue, lamented the damage but shared in Martinkovic’s relief that no casualties had been reported.
“The damage is unfortunate and I’ve got a bunch of downed trees on my property myself, but I think that as the storm went, Liberty has been very fortunate that there has been no loss of life… I know of two homes hit by trees here [on Dwyer Avenue] but for the most part the trees fell the other way,” said Barbuti.
Try telling that to Dwyer Avenue homeowner Mahmut Bozkurt. Bozkurt’s home was destroyed by a massive pine so large that it badly damaged his neighbor’s roof as well. The floors in Bozkurt’s single story home at 95 Dwyer Avenue are covered in broken glass and debris, as the ceilings in the living room, kitchen and in a spare room have all been breached by the fallen tree. Bozkurt fears the home will be condemned and became emotional when recalling all of the renovations he’s done to the home himself over the years. He was especially proud of the shelving he’d installed in the kitchen area.
“It took three years to build… I make all shelves myself,” said Bozkurt, weeping. “Everything I make here by hand.”
Worse yet, Bozkurt said his homeowners insurance has lapsed. “I haven’t been able to work in 31⁄2 years. I get fired from Post Office a few years ago,” he explained in his Middle Eastern accent.
Bozkurt claims to have tried to fight the firing in court but attorney fees proved prohibitively expensive, so he gave up on the case and has admittedly been cutting corners to survive. “I have nothing so we pay our car insurance and we take out our retirement… we were paying the home and the health insurance, but now we have no money,” he said.
Bozkurt, his wife and dog all spent Monday night at the Red Cross shelter at SUNY Sullivan and planned to stay there Tuesday night as well.
Out of state crews
By 5 p.m. Tuesday, a six-man crew of storm workers from MTV Solutions a contractor out of Massachusetts hired by NYSEG had started work on the utility poles on Dwyer Avenue.
At one stop someone would come outside and ask Dave Dunson of Missouri and Carey Glenn from South Carolina when the power would be back up.
“We’re trying to get it up and running as soon as possible,” said Glenn.
“Gonna be a while, though,” added Dunson.
“I hope it’s soon,” said the elderly gentleman, who did not give his name. “I hope it’s real soon,” he added as he turned and walked back into his home.
“We’ve been getting that all day,” said Ed Gallagher of Connecticut. “I feel terrible. We’re trying to get them turned on by tomorrow, but who knows?”
Liberty officials weigh in
Liberty Supervisor Barbuti was just finishing up a conference call with Sullivan County Manager David Fanslau and the other county supervisors when he spoke with the Democrat Wednesday. Barbuti said that the main concern brought up by most was the distribution of dry ice by the local utility for the preservation of refrigerated goods. “People understand that power won’t be restored for some time, but the dry ice is something a lot of people are in need of right now,” explained Barbuti.
Village of Liberty Mayor Rich Winters said of the storm, “I’m very happy it was as nice as it was to us.… When you look at the damage in New Jersey, Long Island and New York City, it’s not so bad around here.
“Sure, houses have been hit and power is down. I haven’t had power myself since Sunday so I know how it feels, but a lot of people don’t realize just how much worse it could have been,” Winters added, praising the response countywide.
“The roads department and the response from the county has been outstanding. I think they’ve done a great job,” Winters explained. “We’re still running our filter plant on a generator since the storm started. It’s a pain but we’re dealing with it. If we’d gotten all the rain that was expected it would have been a different story… much worse.”
Hospital gets by
Catskill Regional Medical Center in Harris lost its utility-provided power for almost nine hours. Between 6:30 p.m. Monday and 3 a.m. Tuesday, the hospital ran on its backup generator.
Marketing chief JP McGuirk said, “We’ve been through this enough times that we’re pretty much like a well-oiled machine during these times. We set up an incident center at the hospital during any disaster and this includes the hospital’s senior management and most of the clinical directors.”
The Grover M. Hermann division in Callicoon, according to McGuirk, “never lost power during the storm.”
Fanslau requests help
In an Oct. 31 letter to New York State Office of Emergency Management Director Mark E. Ferrari, County Manager Fanslau wrote, “There has been substantial damage to both the public infrastructure and to individual property, based upon an initial survey.”
He added that numerous town and county roads remain closed and “the three utility companies that serve Sullivan County have indicated that power outages will be prolonged and may last several days to two weeks.”
Fanslau has requested that a team of state emergency management officials be sent to Sullivan County and goes on to state that a preliminary damage assessment has indicated the need for individual and public assistance.
For Mahmut Bozkurt and what’s sure to be many more, assistance can’t come soon enough.
Towns, villages struggle with storm
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY The Democrat attempted to contact every township and village in the county for a post-Sandy update on Wednesday and Thursday.
Seventeen of the 21 municipalities were reached, and 14 of those are listed below. The other three the town and village of Liberty and the Town of Highland are referenced in separate stories in today’s issue.
Four were unreachable the townships of Callicoon, Neversink and Tusten, and the Village of Bloomingburg but the Democrat has been posting updates from those areas as it receives them on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/scdemocrat).
Virtually all of the Town of Bethel lost power in this massive storm.
“We’re pretty much in the dark,” Supervisor Dan Sturm acknowledged on Wednesday.
More than a dozen town roads were closed.
“Trees are in the wires, and our guys can’t touch them” until NYSEG handles the lines, he added.
The White Lake Firehouse was distributing dry ice and water, while comfort stations offering warmth and drinks were open at the Kauneonga Lake and Smallwood/Mongaup Valley firehouses.
While he was glad there was no flooding, “this is going to be tough,” Sturm admitted.
Cochecton Supervisor Gary Maas said his town came through Sandy “pretty good.”
“Our roads are all clear,” he said Wednesday.
However, with all the power outages, the Lake Huntington Firehouse had opened up its showers and restrooms.
The Town of Delaware didn’t suffer any infrastructure damage from Sandy.
“I feel fortunate,” Supervisor Ed Sykes said on Wednesday. “In my opinion, we dodged a bullet, but a lot of residents still don’t have power.”
“I guess we’re as bad as most and as good as most,” Fallsburg Supervisor Steve Vegliante summed up.
Mid-week, much of the township was still without power, but the major Red Cross shelter for the county was open within Fallsburg’s borders at SUNY Sullivan in Loch Sheldrake.
Vegliante acknowledged frustration with the slow pace of power restoration but said NYSEG had called Sandy the worst storm in its history.
“We do have power to all our necessary systems,” he said, and the town hall reopened for business yesterday. “All of our town employees have been stellar.”
The community helped one another too, from firefighters responding to endless calls to Murray’s Chickens of South Fallsburg providing dry ice.
Forestburgh got smacked hard by Sandy, with the entire town out of power for much of the week.
“We are completely devastated with all the downed wires and trees,” remarked Supervisor Bill Sipos. “In all my life, I’ve never seen it this bad.”
Adding to the misery was Orange and Rockland Utilities’ estimation to Sipos that restoration could take at least 10 days.
Mr. Willy’s Restaurant, run by Sipos’ father and a former supervisor, donated food, while the fire department opened the firehouse to those needing showers, bathrooms, even food (lunch and dinner).
“The community has really started to pull together,” Sipos gratefully noted.
“We got beat up pretty good,” admitted Fremont Supervisor George Conklin.
Long Eddy’s water system was generator-operated and the town hall and garage were dark for a time, he said, but NYSEG was in the township restoring power on Wednesday.
Conklin credited the town’s highway crew with working diligently to slowly reopen all the closed roads.
The Village of Jeffersonville was spared the worst, said Mayor Ed Justus.
One of the two water plants plus the sewer plant had lost power but were operating on backups, and all village roads are open.
“We had no flooding, which we’re really appreciative of,” Justus said. “Everything’s pretty much back to normal.”
Being the Sullivan County township closest to the intense center of Sandy, Lumberland took a major hit, its entire power system being knocked out.
“We’re looking at anywhere from 7-10 days out,” Supervisor Nadia Rajsz affirmed Wednesday, having just gotten a generator to power the town hall.
The town was attempting to check on residents especially the elderly but was hampered by endless amounts of fallen trees.
“I could use an expletive I don’t want to,” Rajsz admitted. “Our roads are really in the crapper.”
That said, “our fire department has been extremely helpful,” she added. “We’re doing the best we can.”
With around 30 roads closed on Wednesday, Mamakating Supervisor Harold Baird set up a warming shelter at the town park in Bloomingburg that will stay open until power is restored.
“We gave out almost 1,000 bags of dry ice last night,” he said Wednesday.
But he was grateful for no flooding.
“We’re doing alright.”
The roof on Monticello’s to-be-renovated village hall tore during Sandy, causing some electrical damage and forcing those offices to stay closed until this coming Monday.
“It’s bad, but we’re moving forward,” acknowledged Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins.
Village employees, however, continued working, clearing streets, taking phone calls, and opening the Ted Stroebele Recreation Center as an emergency shelter.
Rockland Supervisor Ed Weitmann feared the worst and didn’t have to face it, for once.
“Considering the rest of the Northeast and a large part of Sullivan County, we did pretty good,” he admitted Wednesday. “We had no flooding, and we didn’t have to evacuate anybody.”
Every road was reopened by midweek, though power was still out in several locations.
“We were very lucky on this one,” said Weitmann.
Sandy’s winds blew off part of the new roof at Thompson’s town barn, and much of the township was still out of power and Internet service on Wednesday, said Supervisor Tony Cellini.
The town’s infrastructure was otherwise OK, he added suffering himself from a lack of power at his home.
“We just have to hang in there and stay safe,” he said.
At one point, said Woodridge Mayor Lou Saperstein yesterday, the entire Village of Woodridge was out of power.
The generator at the water plant quit, forcing the village hall to share its generator.
About half the village had electricity yesterday, he added.
“NYSEG has been trying hard,” said Saperstein. “And our fire department has been very good.”
Electric service in the Village of Wurtsboro has been sporadic, said Mayor Mickey Maher yesterday.
“Half the street can be on, and the other half can be off,” she related.
The village had to rent a generator to keep its drinking water pumps functioning, and officials still haven’t been able to fully assess the damage to infrastructure.
All roads in Wurtsboro, however, are open, said Maher.
Highland residents cope with post-storm woes at town hall
By Anya Tikka
ELDRED In the Town of Highland, serviced by New York State Gas and Electric, supervisor Andy Boyar said most of the township’s 2,600 people were without power.
The Highland Town Hall in Eldred was open Tuesday, operating on generators, and people visited during the day to collect dry ice and water distributed by the Eldred Fire Department. By 12:30 p.m. all the dry ice was already gone, but more was expected “probably tomorrow,” said Boyar, referring to Wednesday.
Boyar noted the main thing was that there were no casualties or pressing medical emergencies.
He continued, “The biggest thing I want to say is the emergency service people have done a spectacular job. First, our highway department for opening up and clearing the roads, and second, the fire service for helping in my job and doing everything, helping with the distribution. And the American Legion Ambulance Service on Collins Road has already had 40-50 people in the morning for hot showers, coffee, lunch, water and charging up their cell phones.”
Boyar said his main concern was restoring the electric service because “It’s what people use to stay warm and safe in their own homes.”
At the time of writing, Boyar was waiting for more information about power restoration after a planned conference call with NYSEG.
Anita and Bob Giddins came to Highland Town Hall and sat charging their cell phones while Anita knitted. “It’s not such a bad thing,” she said about the power outage. “It puts things into perspective. You’re forced to calm down, and you realize how easily you can lose the power and the phones and other things we use to connect. We see neighbors helping each other, making sure they are all right, people are talking to each other.”
She continued, “It would be a good idea to have the services available in an emergency before the event. We are older, and we had to drive around to find what’s available. It would be a good idea to publicize what’s available, where, what hours, so people could put it on their refrigerator.”
O&R service area
Sandy left the vast majority out of the total 8,831 Orange and Rockland Utilities customers in Lumberland, Mamakating and Forestburgh townships without power at peak outage.
Tuesday morning, O&R spokesman Mike Donovan described the situation in his company’s service area: “It’s a disaster. We have 27 transmission lines and 17 substations down. They are beyond repair and we have to rebuild them. Sixty percent of our customers are down.”
He went on to say, “A total 200,000 O&R customers are out in the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania area. We hope to have the majority of customers back within 10 days.”
The work involves clearing the trees out of the way before the power crews can go in, and Donovan said 1,000 contractors out of state, mainly from the Midwest, had already been employed to do that.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he concluded and could not give an indication when exactly the power could be restored.
Both the Lumberland Town Hall and Lumberland Fire Department were closed when a reporter showed up on Tuesday.