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Chief Anthony Tramaglini and Emergency Management Director Dick Nagle review locations of power outages and street blockages at 11 am on 30 August 2011, in anticipation of ConEdison's arrival.

Croton & other first responders coordinate the search and rescue effort for the lost rafters, Sunday, 29 August 2011, 6 pm, at the command post established by Croton at the Echo Canoe and Boat Launch.

31 August 2011

Notes about Irene and Croton

From before dawn until well after dark in the days before Irene hit, our village staff worked to prepare Croton for the oncoming storm.

Manager Abe Zambrano and the staff organized daily Emergency Operations Center (EOC) meetings several days before the storm to coordinate our preparations. Our public works crews cleaned storm drains and basins to reduce flooding in known trouble spots. Our engineering office prepared large-scale wall maps of all our infrastructure to track preparation and the damage once Irene arrived. Our police, fire and emergency medical personnel coordinated and rehearsed protocols for first responders. Our water department prepped the well fields for the coming inundation. The staff repositioned our service vehicles to speed our response, and gathered storm-related supplies of all kinds from fuel to road barricades. The staff checked the operations of the Municipal Building generators to maintain power for Police and the Emergency Operations Center. Our Emergency Management Director, Dick Nagle, advised and guided us through the questions we should be asking. We coordinated with Ossining to bring on our paid paramedic to Croton for Sunday.

The daily–and then twice daily–EOC meetings gave us an opportunity to coordinate preparation and responses both internally within our own jurisdiction, but also with the County and all the surrounding municipalities.

At Saturday morning, we made the decision to close all Village parks, including those on our waterfronts, when we declared a local state of emergency on August 27, 2011 at noon.

All of this preparation took place before the rain started on Saturday. By 4:30 am on Sunday, Village staff–again both paid and volunteer–were on call and arriving at work to be ready on a moment’s notice.

Once Sunday arrived, our department heads convened at 6 am in our EOC in the Manager’s office to begin fielding, mapping, and tracking all incoming reports.  Throughout the morning, staff members–again both paid and volunteer–made many field trips throughout the village to inspect ongoing conditions and report new events, such as trees down, power lines down, flooded roads. These reports led to road closure decisions made at the EOC that then necessitated additional trips to position road barricades and continue monitoring.

By noon on Sunday, it appeared the worst of Irene had passed. Our staff began to assess the damage to our village infrastructure and confirm our priorities for clearing roads blocked by fallen trees, wires, or flooding. We expected the rain to end by 2 pm and the wind to pick up again and change direction in late afternoon as Irene’s back side moved over us.

Of course, little did anyone know that the most severe event brought on by Irene was about to unfold.

Around 5 pm on Sunday afternoon, just as the predicted winds started to gust, the staff–again paid and volunteer–began responding to calls about “boaters” on the Croton River. We did not know whether the blue boat that observers had spotted had had people in it or not, and, if so, how many people might have been in the raging water, what ages they might be, or where such possible boaters had entered the river, or where they had been seen last.

The search aspect of this event meant deploying our first responders to every conceivable access point on the Croton. Even under good weather conditions, access to the river gorge within Village limits is tricky, regardless of how well someone knows the river.

Under Sunday afternoon’s conditions, the usual access points to the Croton were extremely dangerous due to storm erosion, unstable slopes, falling trees, high wind, and of course the 40 mile an hour river water whipping by.

With the assistance of village residents reporting their observations, we determined we were looking for 5 boaters with one possibly already rescued. By about 6 pm, we knew the location of the remaining boaters, but one remained in the river about 20 feet from rescuers, unreachable across the raging water. He was clinging to a tree in the middle of the Croton at the upstream tip of Fireman’s Island, closer to the Ossining side than Croton’s side.

By around 7:45 pm, our Marine Unit in its zodiac returned to the command post at the Echo Canoe and Boat Launch at the mouth of the Croton, having recovered a life jacket and helmet as well as the blue raft from the river, which they towed behind them. By this time the command post was coordinating a very large inter-agency swift water rescue operation that involved many local mutual aid teams, as well responders from the County and even New York City.

The officers were instructed to return upriver immediately, because the helicopter teams would not be able to reach the remaining rafter under the extremely hazardous conditions, principally due to the trees now hanging over the rising river. Croton’s Marine Unit headed back upriver in the zodiac as the tide was now rising as well. They could only travel as far upstream as Mayo’s Landing before the river became impassable. Nightfall arrived in the gorge, making navigation and keeping the remaining victim in sight even more difficult.

By around 8:45 pm, the rescue team on shore on both sides of the river radioed our Marine Unit downstream that the remaining rafter had let go of the tree. The rafter reportedly shot down along the Ossining side of Fireman’s Island, where our Marine Unit boat was waiting below Dickey’s cliffs. Our officers were able to reach him very quickly and pull him into the zodiac.  The Marine Unit then made the hazardous one and one half mile trip back downstream to the boat launch and command post where medical teams were waiting.

The Croton River we all know and love became an entirely different river under the deluge of Irene.

The selfless efforts–so far above and beyond the call of duty–by so many individuals were truly inspiring to observe. But, even more significant, the teamwork that knit together all the preparation and responses so seamlessly shows that as a village, we are truly united when it counts. The calm professionalism of all our staff–paid as well as volunteer–prevented much worse calamity than transpired.

I want to thank our entire Village staff–paid and volunteer– from the bottom of my heart for working so hard and so well, literally around the clock, over the past week before, during and after Irene came to Croton.
Mayor Leo Wiegman
Please note: The notes above are my own personal recollection of the events of that day. Specific details may be incorrect and subject to change. These notes do not reflect any official record of the events. I merely offer the notes here to give a general impression of how we prepared for and responded to the storm and its impact.