Luskin: Remembering Irene

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(Host) The Rock River has been destroying homes, bridges, roads and
businesses in Williamsville and South Newfane ever since the villages
were settled. Novelist, essayist and educator Deborah Lee Luskin lives
on the Rock River, and she credits the river for something constructive,
as well.

(Luskin) No fewer than five devastating floods made it
into Newfane’s First Century, the town’s first history. The floods of
1815, 1856 and 1859 washed out mills, bridges and a factory along the
Rock River, between Williamsville and South Newfane. Two later floods
damaged roads and bridges throughout the town: The flood of 1869 was
considered the worst-ever in the Connecticut River Valley, but the one
six years later, in 1875, was reported locally to be even worse.

Only
two floods were recorded in the history celebrating Newfane’s second
century. These, of course, were the famous floods of 1927 and 1938.
According to this book, "The 1927 flood is the gauge by which all high
water was measured through the rest of the century." In 1938, however,
severe damage to South Newfane tested that measure. The history reads,
"On both occasions, the washed-out roads, battered or missing bridges,
and splintered buildings, were eventually repaired and though the scars
and memories of the damage done remain to this day, Newfane and its
people made a relatively speedy recovery."

The flooding from
Tropical Storm Irene has surpassed all previous high water marks. The
Smith and Bruce Brooks raged through Newfane Village. And again, it was
the Rock River watershed and the villages of Williamsville and South
Newfane that were hit worst. Houses, bridges, roads, and the old
grist-mill all slid into the water and washed away. Some houses
withstood the water’s force but are uninhabitable. Other houses were
unscathed, but lost their leech-fields, septic tanks, driveways, and
surrounding land. For months after the flood, the murky river roiled
down a new, straighter and wider course – a perfect set-up for the next
flood.

Nevertheless, the destruction brought out the best in
civil behavior. We met for meals, information, and solace in the
Williamsville Hall, where volunteers were matched with recovery tasks. A
landline and WiFi were installed, so flood victims could dial back in
to their lives. The highway crew worked every daylight hour.

Within
weeks, the Rock River was back in its pre-Irene banks, and the Dover
Road, where the greatest destruction took place, was reopened, although a
string of homes along it remains vacant – or missing.

It’s
along this route that nearly thirty groups will march in the first-ever
Rock River Revival Parade, to be held on the last Sunday in August.

The
parade starts in South Newfane and ends at the Williamsville Hall,
where a mid-day meal will be served. Proceeds from the event will
benefit the South Newfane – Williamsville and Newbrook Fire Departments,
whose members helped evacuate people imperiled by rising water and who
helped maintain public safety throughout the recovery.

The parade will also give those who survived a chance to reconnect and remember.

Connection is key.

For
if there’s anything to be learned from history, it’s that floods will
recur, and our social capital is what really provides disaster relief.

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