ALBANY — Cleanup of hard-hit areas in New York from Tropical Storm Irene is expected to take months because roads and bridges have to be rebuilt, farms restored and infrastructure reconstructed.
While experts say the flooding was impossible to prevent, the storm that ravaged upstate wasn't initially expected because most of the original focus was on New York City and its suburbs, which ultimately didn't get hit as badly as rural areas.
Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, said the storm showed the state has to develop a better emergency-response system, and he plans to hold a hearing on the state and federal response to Irene.
"Everybody in government should accept blame for the fact that New York state right now, 10 years after 9/11, is not prepared for either a man-made or natural disaster," said Ball, who heads the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs.
Howard Glaser, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's director of state operations, on Thursday defended the state's preparations for Irene, saying it was ready for the storm's impact on upstate communities.
In some areas, such as Montgomery County, northwest of Albany, officials were in place last Friday before the storm and were asked by residents why they were there.
"While the TV cameras were focused on downstate, our state emergency-management efforts were focused on all of the state that was at risk," he told Gannett's Albany Bureau. "On Friday, before the storm, without even having a firm storm track, we deployed our state agency heads to all of the upstate areas east of I-81 (in central New York)."
Days before the storm, the state asked operators of a number of upstate reservoirs to draw down water, Glaser said. The state also pre-positioned personnel, supplies and equipment upstate, he said.
Cuomo was on the ground in Margaretville, Delaware County, on Sunday, while all the attention was still downstate, Glaser said. As the storm track became clearer that day, state officials began to focus on counties that were getting the most damage. They positioned National Guard troops and equipment so they would be able to quickly assist in Schoharie and Greene counties, Glaser said.
He said on Talk 1300 AM radio in Albany on Thursday that the governor asked President Barack Obama to declare a pre-disaster emergency in New York so communities could be reimbursed for spending on storm preparations. That helped urge counties to prepare. He also declared a state of emergency to make it easier for the state to procure goods and services and work on non-state roads.
The number of rescues required, 249, would have been much higher if the state had not done the evacuations it did on Sunday, Glaser said. There were 10 deaths.
"In terms of the preparation, all of those efforts were far more than the state has done in the past," he said.
The governor said this week that the state concentrated a lot of resources in New York City and on Long Island because all the storm models pegged them as the main targets.
Some residents of Prattsville and Windham, both in Greene County — where water rushed through downtowns after funneling down mountains and spilling over bloated creeks and rivers — said no one could have predicted the extent of the damage.
Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh, said Irene showed the weaknesses of the state's preparedness; it needs a more comprehensive plan because each local government has its own rules and evacuation guidelines.