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Governor Cuomo tours Upstate areas ravaged by flooding (Source:  Chris Morris)
Governor Cuomo tours Upstate areas ravaged by flooding (Source: Chris Morris)

Cuomo tours Irene-battered North Country; Obama declares Federal disaster

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President Obama issued a disaster declaration that frees federal aid for people in areas affected by Irene's flooding, as well as municipalities in Albany, Delaware, Essex, Greene, Schenectady. and Ulster counties. FEMA says assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties could be added.

Rep. Bill Owens of Plattsburgh is among New York congressman who are preparing a letter asking the president to expand the declaration to more of New York, including Clinton, Warren and Washington counties. Owens and Rep. Chris Gibson were with Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday to get a firsthand look at the devastation Irene brought to the eastern slope of the Adirondacks.

With his daughter Mariah in tow, Cuomo toured the tiny high peaks community of Keene, where flash flooding of the Ausable River wiped out bridges, roads, and buildings. Cuomo also announced he was suspending state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation permit requirement to expedite clean-up and rebuilding. Chris Morris was there and has this report.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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With hordes of reporters snapping photos behind him, Cuomo stared in disbelief at what remained of the Keene Fire Department.

“Do you believe this? Do you believe this?” said an astonished Cuomo.

The structure was virtually washed away by the normally unintimidating Dart Brook, leaving little more than a portion of the firehouse’s frame and some of its foundation.

Flanking Cuomo was Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee, who explained how the nondescript brook turned into a virtual path of destruction.

“Where was the brook in relation to this?” Cuomo asked.

“The brook was on the other side of the hill,” Ferebee responded. “It came out of its banks, up the hill and, initially, it just took the one addition on the side first, then a rock apparently hit the block foundation and that allowed the water to flow through and take out the foundation. About an hour later, the rest of the foundation was undermined.”

Cuomo was joined by a host of elected officials, homeowners, and business leaders as he weaved through backyards washed away by flood waters and backyards that are now filled with boulders and debris.

Congressman Chris Gibson, whose district extends as far south as the Catskills, says the damage in Keene is among the worst he’s seen.

Gibson says these close-up looks at flood damage aren’t just for show; they allow leaders on the local, state and federal level to get on the same page before appealing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for individual assistance.

 “But look, we’re just getting started,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of coordination going forward. I’m glad the governor is here today because that will help on the federal, state, county, and town level. There has to be a synchronicity in the way we do work, and that begins with assessment. So I’m glad the governor is here today walking the ground.”

Cuomo did more than just stroll through Keene. At one point he ducked into a woman’s backyard and held hands with her as they surveyed a basement window where rushing waters carried furniture out of the home and into a surging brook.

For state Senator Betty Little, this sort of scene serves as a reminder of why this governor isn’t just paying lip service to northern New York–something    past leaders have been accused of.

“Sometimes, when you’re way up here you always think you’re being forgotten,” said Little, “and we are not forgotten by this governor.”

Cuomo said on Tuesday that there are steps he could take to ease the burden on those hit hard by Irene:

“I’m also going to be suspending regulations and permits (APA and DEC permits) to allow reconstruction work to go forward quickly so we can recover quickly and we’re going to suspend regulations for a period of time,” he said to a round of applause.

That was welcome news for Keene Supervisor Bill Ferebee:

“Because we had a great fear that when we approached DEC or APA to restore these homes that were lost along the river that we would be denied.”

Cuomo also announced a special task force focused on reconstruction and expediting clean-up and repairs.

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