Irene’s Impacts Hit Home

During the last weekend of August, the Eastern U.S. braced for a walloping. Hurricane Irene spiraled up the Atlantic coast, ripping trees out of the ground in North Carolina and drenching much of the rest of the coast. When I heard that Irene was making her way up toward my hometown of Ridgewood, NJ, I had flashbacks to Hurricane Floyd, a devastating storm in 1999 that brought us much destruction and devastation.

Ridgewood, NJ (Source: ridgewood.patch.com user Chris Peters)

When the clouds scattered and the rain stopped, my hometown (and many other towns in Northern New Jersey) was left to clean up the mess in Irene’s wake. The main body of water in Ridgewood, the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook (a tributary to the Saddle and Passaic rivers), spilled over its channel and flooded much of the town’s center.

Ridgewood Village Hall (Source: ridgewood.patch.com)

Ridgewood Village Hall (pictured above) was completely inundated by floodwaters. After Floyd devastated the building in 1999, the town refurbished and renovated the town hall, but much of that work was undone by Irene. Offices on the lower level of the building are out of service until the end of the year and have been forced to relocate. Local media report that the town could have to pay up to $200,000 in repairs to the town hall alone. Fortunately, the nearby town library was spared from this disaster.

Across town, at Ridgewood High School, the new football field (pictured below) was severely damaged by flood waters. The artificial turf field bowed and buckled beneath the swirling flood waters and could cost up to $21,000 to repair.

Ridgewood High School Stadium (Source: ridgewood.patch.com)

Down the road, the struggling city of Paterson, NJ, is still reeling from Irene’s wake. Already devastated by economic hard times, Paterson is dealing with damaging floodwaters.  President Obama visited the city over Labor Day weekend to survey the damage and offered federal assistance.

Paterson, NJ (Source: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)

With clean-up costs expected to top $600,000 for the Village of Ridgewood alone, in addition to damages to private properties, impacts are clearly going to have a profound effect on the budgets of small towns across Irene’s path. Town officials are hoping FEMA will assist with the clean-up costs, although the agency is facing budget shortfalls due to back-to-back natural disasters.

It is no surprise that Irene made it onto the list of the top 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes. The reality is local and state governments need to begin planning for more extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene in the future.