Irene: Determination amid flood’s grief, loss in Montgomery County

An Amsterdam business owner anxious to check on his produce store was swept away and killed in the s

An Amsterdam business owner anxious to check on his produce store was swept away and killed in the swollen floodwaters of the Schoharie Creek on Monday.

The death of Stephen Terleckey, 72, was the starkest tragedy dealt to a county struggling to get back on its feet in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

Roads remain blocked off. Cellars still need to be drained. County office buildings are still closed. But residents of hamlets remain indefatigable in the face of huge loss.

“It always amazes me in the time of despair how people can pull together to work their way out of a situation,” said town of Florida Supervisor William Strevy. “And that’s what they’re doing right now. Obviously we had a great loss. But it’s their homes. They’re going to deal with it in the American way. Prop yourself up, get back to it.”

That’s exactly what residents in the town of Florida and in the city of Amsterdam spent all day Tuesday doing.

Some lost their homeowner status in the hamlets of Fort Hunter and Lost Valley. Homes near the Schoharie Creek were washed away or left in misshapen heaps. Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Dwight Schwabrow estimated about 25 to 30 homes were destroyed throughout the county.

“Our main concern right now is twofold,” Schwabrow said Tuesday. “We’re making every attempt to reinstate the infrastructure that will support the residents of the areas affected. And we’re trying to reopen county offices and get government back on its feet.”

The county is currently under a state of emergency, with non-emergency offices closed until at least Tuesday. County employees were told not to report to work until contacted by supervisors, and any non-emergency and recovery services are suspended until further notice.

In Amsterdam, the McNulty School on Brant Place is being used as a shelter, though police said only few people were occupying it by Tuesday evening.

Police Chief Gregory Culick said emergency management officials will meet today to determine how to restore power on the South Side of the city and provide those residents with dry ice and other necessities. City residents can receive dry ice today at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 39 St. John St.

As residents along West Main Street dragged flood-soaked belongings out of their homes Tuesday evening, city officials continued to assess homes for water damage. Most evacuees were able to go back into their homes by Tuesday evening, at the very least to get belongings out, Culick said.

“I’m astounded by it,” he said. “Everybody can see government working right now. Every piece of government is coming through — parks and recreation, sewer, fire. Our citizenry came together so well and heeded our warnings. They were very compliant. Sometimes I think things like this can galvanize a community.”

The whir of generators could be heard Tuesday along the South Side.

Some homes there had been submerged in up to 5 or 6 feet of water, said Sgt. Carl Rust, and they might be condemned.

“We had high waters before, but it never affected traffic or routes or roads or houses like this,” he said. “It didn’t actually cause damage then. It’s been a very, very long time. I’m hearing that 100-plus years ago we maybe had waters that reached this level.”

Culick said that quite a few of the department’s “old timers” can’t recall anything like the damage inflicted by Irene on the city.

“It really is just amazing to see the river flow right through the Guy Park Manor,” he said. “I think we were dealt a blow that was very terrible, but I think we’ll get back on our feet and we definitely learned a lot from this.”

Police, fire and rescue officials have already tweaked the city’s emergency and evacuation plans, he said. At St. Mary’s Hospital, staff learned that their evacuation plan works very well, he added.

The hospital evacuated 70 patients early Monday morning from its Guy Park Avenue site to the Amsterdam Memorial campus. By Tuesday evening, patients were back at home base.

The wastewater treatment plant in the city was operational Tuesday, but running on emergency power midday, said Schwabrow.

The Beech-Nut manufacturing facility will resume full operation today, after experiencing a power outage Monday from flooding in the surrounding area. The baby food facility didn’t sustain any damage or flooding and re-opened Tuesday under limited operation.

“It’s living practice,” Culick said, of the city coping with disaster.

For one town of Amsterdam resident, city warnings to keep off of flooded roads was not enough to keep him from checking on the business he and his wife owned.

State police Sr. Investigator Karl Meybaum said Stephen Terleckey bypassed several barricades along Route 5S in the town of Glen that stated the roads were closed. State police recovered his body Monday night from the Schoharie Creek

New York State Thruway Authority employees inspecting the Route 5S bridge saw Terlecky drive his Ford 150 pickup truck into the washed out section of Route 5S at approximately 10 a.m. Monday.

“The pickup truck immediately became disabled, listed on its side and disappeared into the raging flood waters,” state police said in a news release Tuesday.

State police in Fonda and a diver from the village of Fultonville Rescue Squad recovered Terleckey’s vehicle around 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Schoharie Creek, about 100 yards away from where he had driven into the water.

“It appears he was going to check on his business and there was no other way to get there,” Meybaum said.

Terleckey owned Karen’s Produce — which on Tuesday was under water — with his wife. The shop on Route 5S was about a quarter of a mile from where Terleckey was swept away, Meybaum said.

Town, city and county officials spoke reverently of Terleckey. He was a lifelong resident of the town of Florida, said Town Supervisor William Strevy. He served on the town Planning Board for awhile, Strevy said, and was a “very well-liked, very nice guy.”

“Karen’s is a lovely local spot for people to get burgers and fries and soft ice cream, pies and fresh produce,” he said. “He was a valuable member of the community and I talk to his family and all I can say is he’s a tremendous loss to the town. We all knew and loved him.”

Cindy Rivera was loading what she could salvage from her flood-soaked home on Main Street in Fort Hunter on Tuesday afternoon — a job she couldn’t do without the help of daughters, in-laws, nieces and nephews.

“We had so many people helping,” Rivera said.

The home sits alongside part of the original Erie Canal that’s again filled with water. The observation deck at the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site, normally about an eighth of a mile down the canal, is now sitting next to her home.

Rivera said she isn’t sure when the power can be turned back on. They need an electrician to inspect the home first.

She was told she has to tear out the insulation and sheetrock on the first floor that was inundated, expose all the wet wood and make sure there’s no mold before trying to re-establish her life there.

It’s unclear if her home insurance will cover anything, but her adjuster told her if she had a sump pump she might be able to get $2,500.

She and her husband, Hector, will mark eight years in the house today.

Many town residents were affected, but in different degrees, from total loss to flooded cellars.

The town supervisor walked the streets in Fort Hunter on Monday after some of the water had subsided. Strevy said some homes had 4 or 5 feet of water inside, and most cellars were flooded.

“They’re going to be busy for the next few weeks, just repairing roads and homes,” he said.

Hit particularly hard with floodwaters were Main, Church, Quackenbush, Railroad and Schoharie streets in the tiny hamlet, which is the site of the old Schoharie Crossing aqueduct.

In the Lost Valley hamlet, Strevy described anything near the Schoharie Creek as “just gone.”

“I was there this morning and the road is gone so I can’t even get out to all the homes where the damage was,” he said.

One house lay completely off its foundation. And one person Strevy talked to Tuesday morning was living temporarily in a friend’s RV until they find someplace more permanent.

Dumpsters are being provided throughout both hamlets for flood debris.

“We have had flooding in the past,” Strevy said. “But this just seems to be the most severe that I’ve lived through, and I’ve lived here quite a while.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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