I live in the Town of Keene just outside the hamlet and so I had an idea of how damaging Irene was. Starting with our rain gauge, which measured 11 inches of rainfall from the storm and including seeing the shower of pine branches brought down on our house by the winds, it was clear we were in the middle of something bad.
But it wasn’t until I grabbed a camera and started surveying the area on Tuesday morning that I understood what we had experienced.
The hamlet of Keene is an astonishing and deeply saddening sight. The fire station has been torn in half by rampaging waters of a tributary of the East Branch of the Ausable. Buildings that house the dreams of merchants and restaurateurs, who have brought new life to Keene, are battered, blanketed in mud, and perched on craters scoured out by the flood waters.
I headed east on Route 73, which has been closed to traffic, to see what damage I could reach and how bad it is. In Keene Valley, shops had piles of merchandise outside for drying and cleaning. Before I got to the road-closing near the Ausable Club, I parked near the entrance to and headed out on foot to explorer St. Huberts, a small community tucked on the banks of the East Branch. It’s badly hurt. A bridge that carried the one road over the river is collapsed into the waters. Upstream the river has cut under a house, leaving an addition and part of a garage hanging in air. The roadway is buried in mud a foot or more deep and trees and utility poles lean at sharp angles.
From the west, Route 73 is closed at the entrance to the Ausable Club. Parking there, I again set out on foot. Within sight of that entrance are two washouts at least four feet deep and chewed most of the way across the two-lane highway. One has Roaring Brook tumbling through it, the river having changed its course during the flood so that it now flows where the highway is supposed to be.
Several other washouts eat into the highway between the Ausable Club and the overlook for Roaring Brook Falls. A couple cut deeply into at least half the width of the road. Others are slides at the edge of the highway. Guard rails dangle over these, the ground that had held them, resting fifty feet or more below them in the river’s valley.
I’m not qualified to estimate how long it will be before this road, the major entry to the High Peaks Region from the south, will reopen. But it seems months away at best.
Carol Breen, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, assured us this afternoon that despite the heavy damage Route 73 will reopen before winter. That’s good news for Keene Valley, Lake Placid, and the Whiteface Mountain Ski Area. Breen said DOT expects to reopen Route 9N, which connects Keene and Upper Jay, in a few days.
For news on the storm’s damage to the backcountry, check out these posts on the Outtakes blog on the Adirondack Explorer website (the most recent is listed first):
Photo of damaged Keene coffee shop by Tom Woodman.
Tom Woodman is the publisher of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.