State Sen. Tom O'Mara Column: "The Labor of Rebuilding"

Posted September 15, 2011

The aftermaths of Hurricane Irene, likely to be among the top 10 costliest natural disasters in American history, and, now, Tropical Storm Lee remain devastating.

As our nightly newscasts have continued to show us day after day over the past two weeks, the northeastern United States was particularly hard hit – especially many upstate New York communities, including our region. The damage in numerous upstate counties is astonishing. Roads and bridges in rural regions have been entirely washed out. Main Streets were turned into riverbeds. Of course the losses for countless individual homeowners are heartbreaking and simply unimaginable.

And the storms have hit upstate agriculture at the worst possible time with the year’s harvest underway. The terrible losses of livestock, crops, barns, and equipment are unfathomable and, in most instances, unrecoverable. “I’ve been involved in agriculture my entire life,” the state’s agriculture commissioner reflected, “and there have been times when the weather has wreaked havoc on livestock and farms, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything on this scale here in New York.”

So clearly the recovery and the rebuilding effort will demand the attention of federal, state and local leaders for months and months to come. Government plays a vital role in these responses. You can stay updated on the effort through Governor Andrew Cuomo’s website, The damage assessments will be ongoing. The governor has established an Upstate Storm and Flooding Recovery Task Force to coordinate the statewide response. The hard work of putting these communities back together will be intensive.

The bottom line is that we will carry on. That was the message being delivered again late last week.

“All levels of government are working together to help New York recover and we will not stop until the job is done," the governor said. Or as one upstate farmer who suffered enormous crop losses summed it more philosophically to the New York Times: “You put your boots back on and deal with it.”

What comes to mind most quickly in assessing disasters like these is, again, the overwhelming response from New Yorkers as a whole. One upstate daily newspaper wrote in an editorial, “If any additional proof were needed that it is a new day for New York, it came on a day that, ironically, many New Yorkers would surely have traded for a new day…Communication was constant. The governor’s office updated the media constantly on road conditions, power outages and the like. Cuomo’s demeanor at press conferences was no-nonsense but reassuring. It all added up to an executive in control – something the state had gone largely without in many ways for at least the past four years.”

Equally impressive was the response from volunteers, work crews, and first responders who once more proved that when disaster strikes, so many stand ready and willing to help. National Guard units from Hornell and Horseheads were mobilized. Local Red Cross volunteers and DOT workers were sent out. The Bath Volunteer Fire Department’s Swift Water Rescue team was deployed. The list goes on.

The timing of this reminder of the willingness of people to pull together has been equally poignant – arriving as it did as the nation prepared to observe the 10th anniversary of September 11th. To this very day, while 9/11 evokes such a difficult mix of emotions, one of the most powerful feelings of all remains this one: we are Americans and above all else, in the toughest of times, we will stand together in aid, in comfort, and in resolve. This same resolve is being demonstrated again at this very moment in the ongoing storm recovery.

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