Kelly Diamond watched with horror as her garage crumbled into the badly swollen Line Creek on Sunday.
The torrent of water fueled by runoff from Hurricane Irene and propelled by a burst beaver dam upstream slammed into the structure with enough force to splinter the building. Within minutes, all that was left behind was a 6-by-6 slab of reinforced concrete, which acted like a temporary barrier between her home and the rushing creek as it scoured away large swaths of her yard.
“And it just kept coming when it was on the verge of the house,” she recalled this week, tears welling in her eyes
Then, as Diamond’s hopes dwindled, members of the National Guard’s 827th Engineering Company — freshly back in the United States from a deployment to Afghanistan — rolled up on West Middleburgh Road with a convoy of military vehicles. One guardsman deftly piloted a gigantic military-green bulldozer into the creek.
With water cascading past the machinery and rising up to the guardsman’s shins, he gradually redirected the creek back into its original path. The courageous act may have saved Diamond’s home, an early 19th century structure that has been in her family for generations.
Granted, her home didn’t escape unscathed: There’s now a nearly 12-foot drop from the back door, and the foundation could have suffered damage. But Diamond is determined to rebuild.
“It’s my ancestral home,” she said. “I can’t just give it up.”
Diamond’s anguish was compounded by what she lost in the garage — all of her father’s mementos she had stored there after his death 11 months ago.
Even the garage itself has sentimental value. Diamond’s father built the building himself and used it as his workshop for years.
“He loved that garage,” she said.
The guardsmen who came to her rescue were among about 2,700 deployed across the state to contend with the wrath of Irene this week. There are currently 180 guardsmen helping out in Schoharie County. The total force statewide had dwindled to about 1,000 soldiers by Friday, and they were given the mission to continue assisting some of the state’s most devastated counties.
The governor ordered the guardsmen to help people with whatever they need over the weekend, said Eric Durr, a spokesman for the guard.
Further upstream from Diamond, Tom Quinn surveyed his small print shop as it teetered over the edge the creek, nearly a quarter of its foundation scoured away. The blacktop driveway he recently laid down for the business was effortlessly lifted by the creek and shattered into pieces.
“At least we got to enjoy it for three weeks,” he shrugged.
A mangled white truck sat in front of his home on a hill adjacent to the print shop. He recalled watching the nearly 10-foot-high wall of water slam the vehicle down.
“It landed literally on our mailbox,” he said.
Guard soldiers continued to toil along the creek bed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Excavators pulled large trees and brush from underneath bridges, many of which became choked with debris during the height of the flood.
Bulldozers pushed large stones and gravel deposited by the flood into new banks for the creek. Large military dump trucks circulated through the neighborhood, hauling away the shattered remnants of washed-away buildings and trees littered around the winding country road.
Guardsmen were also working in the Schoharie Creek, where entire buildings were carried downstream. Reed said they were at work beneath the Interstate 88 bridge over the Schoharie between Exit 22 and Exit 23.
At the height of the flooding Sunday, a home carried by the creek slammed into the concrete piers with enough force that it was feared that the bridge might be compromised. State officials finally re-opened the section of highway on Wednesday afternoon.
Guardsmen also used Blackhawk helicopters to fly in supplies and survey the damage in some of the worst-hit areas. Since Monday, the Blackhawks have been a mainstay in the sky over Middleburgh and Schoharie.
As of Thursday, guard pilots had logged more than 150 hours of flight time in response to the disaster. The guard has brought in more than 60,000 pounds of food and water in the flood’s aftermath.
Capt. Bryan Reed, who was directing operations throughout Schoharie County, said the guard’s first mission on Monday was search and rescue. Once it became clear that residents were safe, he said they switched the mission to opening passages to some of the town’s more remote areas that were cut off by downed trees or unsafe bridges.
“We couldn’t even walk through here [on Monday],” Reed said of a small bridge that traverses the creek. “We had to figure out what our high priorities were going to be.”