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Exercise 5-5
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Writing a Natural Disaster Story


On the third day of the worst flooding in half a century in your coverage area, your editor has asked you to write a 600-word story that sums up the damage. Here's what you discover:
  • As you drive through the flood-damaged mid-Hudson region, you see people standing in silt-strewn yards and waterlogged homes. You see road crews scrambling to open once-flooded roads.

  • It's clear the weekend's floods have produced tens of millions of dollars in damage.

  • A call to the American Red Cross reveals to you that Red Cross workers across the region are trying to find motel rooms for scores of people unable to return home.

  • You learn from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been occupied with a mammoth terrorism drill, that the agency expects backup teams from Texas to reach local flood zones tomorrow.

  • Bruce Kirkpatrick, Ulster County's deputy director of emergency management, tells you: "Just in public infrastructure alone, we're looking at millions. … And the human cost ... How do you measure the human cost?"

  • You hear on the radio that Gov. George Pataki has officially declared Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties disaster areas, allowing the first state disaster inspectors to arrive. They are surveying Myers Grove, a one-time summer community of bungalows and trailers in Deerpark, which was among the areas hardest hit. Damage assessments must be done before the governor can ask the president to declare the area a federal disaster area, which would clear the way for federal disaster relief and allow residents to apply for low-interest loans to rebuild homes. Officials hope to get a true measure of the devastation after state and federal disaster assessment teams tour flooded areas in two dozen counties in southern New York and western New Jersey.

  • Officials tell you it will take weeks or even months to repair washed-out roads and bridges.

  • It's increasingly clear, officials say, that this weekend's floods will set records. Already, this is what they tell you:

  • The Neversink River reached the highest level recorded in Godeffroy since the U.S. Geological Survey began taking measurements there 68 years ago. The river crested just over its 100-year flood level – a measurement that federal officials set based on prior high-water years.

  • In Deerpark, at the intersection of the Neversink and Delaware rivers, officials say they expect to condemn 160 homes. The floods caused at least $24 million in damage to that town alone, an Orange County spokesman tells you.

  • The Delaware River in Port Jervis also came close to its 100-year flood level as determined by FEMA. The flooding was less remarkable for the Wallkill River, where waters reached 15-year flood levels.

  • Upstream, in Sullivan County, high waters exceeding 100-year flood levels caused $16.5 million in damage to roads, bridges and other public properties.

  • Some background you dig up: The Neversink exceeded levels recorded in the late summer and early fall of 1955, when a potent series of hurricanes and coastal storms pounded eastern New York. The Delaware also flooded in mid-August of that year after hurricanes Connie and Diane struck the region in a single week.

  • Ninety-two-year-old Dorothea Solomon, who was Port Jervis' deputy director of civil defense in those days, tells you what happened that week: "We had five days of solid rain, the kind of rain you look at and say, 'That can't last for long – it's too heavy.' … It was so wet, the ground couldn't hold it. The same thing that happened this time."

  • You bump into Carol Clancy, who runs My Friends' Place day-care center in Livingston Manor, a hamlet in northern Sullivan County. Livingston Manor, Deerpark and Ellenville are all water-rich lowlands and have flooded before. This is the second flood to hit her area in the past six months.

  • Clancy is buying new rugs to replace the ones ruined in the day-care center, where water rose to the doorknobs. She points out that she's already thinking about the next flood. Her new rugs are dark green — "And ones that I can roll up in a hurry for the next time," she said.

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