by Chris Gasiewski
Geoff Grogan still gets very upset thinking about it. The severe emotional trauma from the devastation and helplessness he endured from Hurricane Irene and subsequently Tropical Storm Lee has lingered like a broken heart.
“Emotionally, you go on a roller coaster,” said Mr. Grogan, an associate professor in Adelphi University’s Department of Art and Art History. “It’s taken a while to get to a point where we aren’t angry or scared.”
It’s almost a year removed from when the relentless storms pummeled upstate New York, including where Geoff and his wife, Debbie, live in Ouaquaga. During Lee, the rain was constant for two straight days and the Susquehanna River, just 1,000 feet from their property, neared flooding levels. With Geoff staying on Long Island for work during the week, Debbie was alone. She didn’t own a cell phone (they live in a dead zone), but the two communicated via Skype.
The evening of September 6, the terrible notion that Debbie needed to evacuate became a stark reality. The water level was just 50 feet from their home. She had limited time to react, and Geoff remained powerless, watching her fright from a distance.
“It was really frustrating,” he said. There was nothing I could do.”
He told Debbie to leave the house, and she battled the pressure and elements.
“I spun around in circles,” she said. “I ran around and grabbed all of his artist stuff. My next concern was the animals (two dogs and three cats). I had to get my medications. I had to get the tractor out of the barn. I didn’t know what I was going to come back to.” She also had the presence of mind to shut the electricity and gas off in the house. Her friends, Sue and Kenny Springsteen, took her to their home across town, well above the river level.
Debbie was fortunate enough to stay with the Springsteens for two days while Geoff was stranded on Long Island, unable to pass through Route 17, which was closed for four days. He returned on September 10, Debbie’s birthday, only to find significant damage. The entire barn, and its contents, was flooded and destroyed. That included Debbie’s business, Buttercup Boutique, a ladies’ accessory shop that she had opened a year prior to help pay Geoff’s rent on Long Island. The business was lost, and she doesn’t plan to reopen. “It was more than an emotional upheaval,” she said. “It put a financial difficulty on us.” They also lost a couple tons of stove pellets they used to heat the house.
Inside their home, water penetrated and reached the ceiling of the basement, seeping through into the kitchen and other areas on the first level. They had no power or water for a week, and Geoff had to replace all of the insulation in the basement, as well as the water softener. The two chipped away at the cleanup for months before finally restoring their home to a tranquil state this past June. Still, they will never forget the emotional devastation they experienced.
“When I think about it,” Geoff said with a crackle in his voice, “watching her scared to death trying to load all that stuff in her friend’s car…and she is making sure the pets are OK. Watching a loved one go through that alone, it’s upsetting.”
Debbie added that they had spent about $10,000 on renovating the barn and fixtures, “and it was gone in a blink of an eye. Still to this day, I go out in the barn and can’t believe it.”