Monday, August 29, 2011

Goodnight Irene! Assessing Damage in the Wake of the Storm

Roosevelt Island, NY yesterday; photo by Daniel Berg
Like many of my fellow east-coasters, I spent the last few days hunkered down at home. In the days leading up to the storm, my sister-in-law in Vermont offered us what she thought would be a safe haven at her place. It wasn't a feasible plan so we stayed in New York City where we escaped all damage. Poor Cathy has been dealing with floods and power outages ever since.

She's not alone in feeling the fury of Irene in VT. From what I hear, the historic Weston Playhouse (Vermont's oldest theater) has suffered severe damage and has had to cancel performances for now. The internet is teeming with videos of historic bridges being washed away, cars slamming through roaring rivers in Bennington, and slabs of highway falling into the water.

So what will happen to leaf-peeping season, Vermont's most busy tourist period? The trees were not damaged, according to forestry experts, who are noting that Vermont's problems (the state has been named a federal disaster area) have been due to flooding and not high winds. No trees have been stripped of their leaves, and the extra rain, after a slight drought in the area, will help make the colors even more vibrant apparently. Repairing flooded roads by late September, however, and dealing with other sorts of flood damage, will be the greater challenge. Though State officials are trying to put a positive spin on recent events in light of the looming tourist season, it seems too soon to tell, for sure, just what sorts of conditions visitors will experience when they arrive in a month.

Airline travel was also disrupted and is straining to get back to normal. Because of already-crowded planes as we approach Labor Day weekend, travelers trying to re-book flights cancelled over the weekend are facing serious hurdles, according to the New York Times. If you're in this situation, remember that persistence pays off. A huge number of travelers are juggling changed plans right now, which means that a flight you're being told is sold out may experience some last minute cancellations as travelers re-think their plans. Keep the airline on speed dial, don't take no for an answer and make friends with supervisors. Often accommodations can be made if you're persistent.

For those headed to the beach, the news is mostly good. With the exception of a few badly damaged areas in the Outer Banks of North Carolina (and not all: here's a piece on that area), most East Coast beaches have been re-filled with beach blankets and umbrellas, as I type this, according to USAToday. But because so many would-be tourists are dealing with power outages and flood damges at home, many beach areas are reporting last-minute cancellations. This may be the year to score a deal over Labor Day as a result.

But if you're headed to a beachy destination via cruise ship, be ready for some itinerary changes. The Bahamas saw some serious damage with Irene, and most ships are re-routing from calls there. For a current list of changes and other hurricane-related cruise news, head to's "Hurricane Zone."

September and October are the height of the season for hurricanes, and experts are predicting a particularly volatile fall. My guess is that Irene was just the coming attractions. Let's hope I'm wrong.

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