Yesterday, I stood in the living room of Charity Marlatt high on a hillside over Keene Valley. Her home sits on a big slab of glacial soil and rock that’s slowly oozing downward.
Weeks of heavy rain have dislodged a section of the hillside roughly a mile in circumference.
Meanwhile, the 600-mile shoreline of Lake Champlain remains underwater, with banks eroded, homes and businesses flooded.
The Raquette River reached a level that Mike Lynch, at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, described as a 500-year high.
The torrent devastated homes, damaged wastewater treatment plants, and stretched emergency responder crews to the limit.
Even when the rain stops (maybe Saturday) it could take weeks for hillsides to stabilize and lakes to return to normal levels.
With Memorial Day weekend drawing near, that means the brief, vitally important tourism season is imperiled for many communities.
It’s difficult sometimes to put events like this one in perspective. Is the flood a big enough disaster to really change things in the North Country? I’m not sure.
But I do suspect that some towns and villages could feel the effects for a longer period than, say, after the massive ice storm of 1998.
First, because many communities, and their economies, are more fragile now than they were just a dozen years ago.
We’re grayer than we were back then, thanks to long-standing demographic trends. And many of our businesses have been weakened by the recession.
It strikes me as symbolic that Port Henry — one of the hardest hit communities — no longer has an Aubuchon hardware stores downtown where you can buy the supplies needed in a disaster like this.
How will shops and markets in Willsboro, Essex and Westport get by if the crucial ferry to Vermont remains closed for several more weeks?
Farmers, too, are struggling with flooded, mud-choked fields at a time when they’re also faced with rising fuel costs, and unstable milk prices.
Meanwhile, a lot of local leaders I talk to are skeptical about the ability of New York state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer much help.
New York state is basically broke. And FEMA is busy wrestling with natural disasters in the South, the Midwest, and the Mississippi River valley that make our floods look downright tame.
Who knows how this will all play out? People here are resilient, creative, and they’ve weathered big storms before.
Maybe a year from now, the flood won’t look like such a big deal.
Still, for hundreds of families and business owners — from the Adirondacks to Great Sacandaga, the Hudson Valley and Lake Champlain to the St. Lawrence Valley — there are clearly some bitter weeks and months ahead.
We should all keep this in mind as the floods slip out of the headlines and the summer weather finally arrives. For many of our neighbors, the effects of the high water will linger for a long time.
What do you think? How has the Flood of 2011 affected you, your family, and your community? Comments welcome below.