Schoharie County residents and community leaders gathered in Middleburgh on Sunday in a spot that was underwater at the same time five years ago.
They joined together to reflect on how far the community had come and how far there was to go in the recovery efforts after Hurricane Irene devastated the region in August 2011.
Sunday’s commemorative event was sponsored by Schoharie Area Long Term, Inc., or SALT, an organization aiming to aid the county’s long-term recovery that was formed a couple months after the storms rolled through the area. Politicians and leaders in the rebuilding efforts took turns speaking about the legacy of the storm and the community’s resilience.
“We’re all a part of each other’s stories,” said Sarah Goodrich, executive director at SALT.
The celebration of the community’s resilience and collaboration was held under sunny, breezy conditions — far different from those five years ago to the day.
From Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 of 2011, heavy rains from Hurricane Irene caused creeks and rivers to overflow, flooding out farmland and crops, inundating homes and leaving thousands without power for days.
Under a pavilion in Timothy Murphy Park, walking distance from the Schoharie Creek - which overflowed into the surrounding area five years ago - about 50 people split their time between talking about the storm itself and discussing the efforts of volunteers in its aftermath.
It’s important to remember the past and the storm’s effect on the community while maintaining a focus on the county’s potential and where it’s headed, Goodrich said. One speaker talked about the county’s task of “turning a nightmare into a dream.”
About a dozen chalkboards were propped up and had the statement “My Dream for Schoharie County is…” written across the top. On the chalkboards, people had written about their desires for better schools, good jobs, more recreational activities and a Panera Bread in their neighborhood.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli was among several politicians in attendance on Sunday. He talked about the resilience of the community in Schoharie and the way volunteers rallied together to rebuild the flooded neighborhoods.
“Yes, it’s part of your history, but it doesn’t define your community,” he told the audience.
Assemblyman Pete Lopez, Schoharie Town Supervisor Chris Tague and Mayor of Schoharie Village John Borst were among the other speakers, nearly all of whom praised the community led effort to return the county to its condition before the storm.
One of the community members who played a key role in volunteer efforts is Josh DeBartolo, who served as the keynote speaker for Sunday’s event. DeBartolo was joined at the microphone by his infant son. He proceeded to tell his son, Blake, the story of rebuilding Schoharie County.
The story included characters such as hope, empathy and courage, and as DeBartolo spoke of fire departments pumping water out of homes and volunteers coming to the aid of neighbors, community members in attendance became emotional.
Borst, the mayor of the Village of Schoharie, said Irene “knocked the socks off” of the area. However, like many of those gathered on Sunday, he was focused on the lessons learned from the storm and all that has happened since.
“It’s about people helping people,” he said. “We can accomplish everything. All we have to do is work together.”