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Please God Stop the Rain

The day, one year ago, that Hurricane Irene nearly drowned Prattsville, New York, population 700.


Dave Rikard’s home, a day after the storm.  

Pam Young saw no reason to worry. Like everyone else in Prattsville, a town perched on the edge of the Schoharie Creek, the 41-year-old single mother was accustomed to floods. When the water comes, it’s predictable. It slurps over the bank at the bend in the creek, then runs down the sidewalk, onto her driveway, around the garage, and into the yard, where it backs up and ruins the grass. Pam didn’t even feel especially hurried as she readied for the water while her 9-year-old son, Joey, played inside the house with his cousin Riley, also 9. She put on a T-shirt and shorts, moved her truck to higher ground, and readied the sump pump to do its work. It’s raining hard, she thought, as the water fell in sheets. But it’s rained hard before.

Pam was going about her preparations when a volunteer fireman showed up at the steps to say that the Prattsville Hose Company station was available as a refuge. Pam thanked the woman for her concern, but said she’d prefer to stay put with the boys. To move seemed unnecessary, and she didn’t like the idea of leaving her two dogs and cat behind. Then she spotted her neighbors leaving in a rush.

“Oh my God,” she yelled out to them. “Where are you going?” They told her they expected six feet of water in their front yard. They told her they’d been urged to leave.

If the neighbors are going, she thought, then so am I. Pam ran into the house to tell the kids and had begun throwing together an overnight bag when she saw the water. For the first time in the fifteen years she had lived in her house, Pam watched as a red-brown flow came up the back steps and into the house. That’s when she knew it was too late. She was trapped.

Pam had been commuting an hour each way to her job in Albany for nearly two decades in order to live in the small white-and-green house that her grandfather had built on Maple Lane. She moved into her home following the death of her grandmother, in 1996, and when her grandfather passed away a few years later, Pam knocked down some walls, replaced the roof, and installed gray siding to eliminate the hassle of repainting every few years. All told, she spent nearly $200,000 over ten years.

Now, as she stood in the living room, a place that had always felt so safe, she was completely panicked. Outside the windows, her yard had been transformed into lake. She had no illusions about saving her furniture, but there were certain things she couldn’t bear to lose, items she knew she’d miss if they were to disappear. There was the note her daughter, now grown, had written when she was little and angry and first able to put her feelings into words. There were the dried flowers from her grandparents’ funerals. But before she could even pull the family photos off the wall, the water had risen to her waist.

Pam had a horrifying thought: If she didn’t get off the first floor soon, she could drown in her own house. And worse than the prospect of her death was the thought of leaving the boys trapped alone upstairs with no way of calling for help. Pam ran up to the second story, the water lapping at her feet, and joined Joey and Riley in her bedroom.

The house began to shake violently. Something large had struck the front corner facing the creek and knocked the structure off the foundation. The house, nearly unmoored, made a quarter-turn and sagged as one side collapsed into the basement. When the movement stopped, Pam’s entire house was leaning, practically tipping, and anything that wasn’t nailed down began to slide toward the southeast corner, which was exposed to the current and taking direct hits from large objects in the water—furniture, downed trees, pieces of other homes. Slam. Slam. Slam.

With virtually no options, Pam pushed the kids and the pets out a bedroom window and onto the roof of an addition she had built in the place of an old porch. As the rest of the house peeled back, creating a two-foot tear with a view straight down into the dining room and kitchen, the addition, which rested on its own foundation, didn’t budge. Pam went back and forth, from roof to house, never sure when the two structures would split apart completely. She grabbed dry-cleaning bags to help shield the kids and the dogs from the downpour, and then dumped the toy-train components out of some containers and put those over the children, too. Joey wailed as he watched his new school clothes, bought the night before, and his toys, including every one of his G.I. Joes, float out a window and into the maw.


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