Song and music drowned out the constant hum of a temporary HVAC unit behind the Schoharie County office complex Tuesday as more than 200 people gathered on Main Street to recognize the passing of one year since Tropical Storm Irene changed hundreds of lives.
It wasn’t necessarily a time for celebration, but more of a moment to take a breath and reflect on what Schoharie Reformed Church Pastor Sherri Meyer-Veen described as an “unwanted anniversary.”
“We recognize what we give pause to recognize and remember. We reflect on what we have lost, we reflect on what we have gained and we reflect on where we go from here,” said Meyer-Veen, one of hundreds who spent the past year trying to bring some semblance of normalcy back to post-disaster life.
The gathering also served as an opportunity for some to express gratitude to those who decided to stay in the valley — and those who helped them stay.
“Congratulations to all of you who have worked so hard and made that difficult decision to stay,” said Supervisor Gene Milone, R-Schoharie. Milone thanked all the first responders and emergency workers and volunteers and divine intervention for “giving us the strength to overcome.”
“It’s really a bittersweet moment,” said Schoharie resident and Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie, who said it’s difficult to celebrate while so many continue to reel from the after-effects of the worst natural disaster to hit the region in decades. “We also know there are still others who are struggling, there are still others who are homeless,” Lopez said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, described last year’s disaster as an event that changed many lives.
“Not one of us is the same person that we were before the storm,” Gibson said. “Clearly this is a period of mixed emotion.”
The event’s somber tone turned a bit joyful, however, as longtime Village Clerk Leslie J. Price opened the doors of her J. Lacy Hair Salon on Main Street to the applause of dozens. More cheers followed as Price gave Josh DeBartolo the first haircut he’s had since before Irene busted up his home county.
DeBartolo was in town for his brother’s wedding as the storm bore down. He was all set to start a new job in Denver but decided to stay and help out.
DeBartolo ignored his own appearance while tending to flood victims and as days turned into months, he grew to consider himself the “hairy” in Schoharie. But an offer to cut his hair in exchange for $10,000 in donations for the flood relief effort was all it took — people sent in more than $14,000.
DeBartolo said his new look can be seen as symbolic. “We are turning a new page, a new chapter.”
The early days after the flooding required heavy toil to clear up massive amounts of debris and address issues individually as they came up, he said. Now, the focus is shifting to more-detailed requirements. There’s a need now for refined, skilled labor instead of general labor, he said.
Price was beaming at the thought of finally having her hair salon back, which opened back in 1979.
“The doors are open and we’re moving forward,” she said.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: