After Irene, Upstate N.Y. Limps To Recovery

The massive clean-up from Tropical Storm Irene continues in upstate New York, but some cash-strapped rural communities say they're not sure how much they can afford to rebuild.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host: President Obama tours Paterson, New Jersey today for a first-hand look of the effects of Hurricane Irene. The suburban New York community was ravaged by floods in the past week. Irene was a tropical storm by the time it reached the Adirondack Mountains, but the damage was no less severe. As North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports, dozens of towns in New York's and Vermont face a long recovery.

BRIAN MANN: A caravan of National Guard Humvees rolls across a bridge on the Ausable River in Upper Jay, carrying workers and supplies into one of New York's hardest hit and most remote areas. This help is desperately needed, but town supervisor Randy Douglas says flooding in his small mountain town was so severe, so violent, that one neighborhood might have to be abandoned.

RANDY DOUGLAS: You lose your identity, you lose your community. These are people that generations and generations have lived here and raised their families here.

MANN: This street was once a tidy lane, lined with trim cottages. Now, it's strewn with swamped cars and massive trees that were dragged for miles by the rain-swollen river. Michael Bowen, who's lived here for six years, looks ready to tip over from exhaustion.

MICHAEL BOWEN: Well, obviously we don't have any furniture. All of our appliances are - we need help with everything. Yeah, it's overwhelming, I don't know.

MANN: There's still no running water here - it's not likely to be restored for weeks - which makes cleaning up nearly impossible. Bowen's neighbor, Alfred Bombard, says a lot of people here just don't have the money to rebuild on higher ground.

ALFRED BOMBARD: I can't afford to go and buy another house at this stage of the game but before I brought up four children there.

MANN: An hour's drive down the road in the town of Keene Valley, McDonough's Hardware Store looks like it's holding a big yard sale. All the merchandise is covered in silt. It's drying out under the sun. Inside, David and Paula McDonough are still shaking their heads. Things are so bad they've started laughing about it.

DAVID MCDONOUGH: We probably lost fifty to a hundred thousand dollars of merchandise. So, it's like you - unbelievable...

PAULA MCDONOUGH: Well, everything floated from the other room into this room.

MCDONOUGH: It was just - whoa.

MANN: It's still unclear how much help homeowners and businesses will get from their insurance coverage - most people here don't have flood policies. State and federal agencies have promised fast financial aid, but the area was already in tough shape because of the national recession, with businesses like the McDonough's barely hanging on. Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas says even days after the storm, people here are still just trying to sort out what they can salvage.

DOUGLAS: You got county bridges that are beyond repair. You have county roads beyond repair, state highways - you have town roads, you know, I wouldn't dare put a dollar amount on it.

MANN: The rebuilding effort in these mountain towns will also be squeezed by weather. The first snowfall could be less than a month away. For NPR News, I'm Brian Mann in northern New York.

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