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Hurricane Irene: One Year Later In Croton

CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – Tropical Storm Irene ripped through Croton one year ago, Aug. 28, 2011, leaving flooding, power outages, one man dead and hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. Nevertheless, some government officials say, it could have been worse.

"I think we sustained not as much damage as we could have, as far as losing personal property ... because we did prepare. We did move a lot of the equipment that could have been damaged by the storm," said Croton Village Manager Abraham Zambrano.

"Right now it's slightly over $200,000," Zambrano said about total damage to the village. He said the village is still waiting to hear back from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about some reimbursements, and could possible file for additional reimbursements.

Village officials and residents had upward of five days to prepare for the storm, but the aftermath was still extreme. Many had no power for four days or more. Consolidated Edison, on Aug. 31, 2011, reported 154,500 customers were without power, more than 82 percent of the utility's service area.

Croton parks, including Silver Lake, Black Rock and Senasqua, were flooded. Silver Lake did not reopen in 2011, as the village repaired damage to the beach. Black Rock Park was flooded to the hilt, and the dog fence had to be replaced. The Croton Yacht Club came within inches of devastation, as water covered the deck and tickled the front door of the club.

Metro-North Railroad lines were down until Monday after the storm, as tracks from Croton to Ossining flooded, and others were covered with downed power lines and mud.

"D" batteries were almost impossible to find for days leading up to the storm. Con Edison offered dry ice, but some residents said the one-bag limit was not enough, and much of their food had already spoiled.

The day after the storm hit, Aug. 29, 2011, the roar of water racing over the top of the Croton Dam could be heard from a quarter-mile away, on Route 129. Dozens of residents braved roadways, many cut off by flooding, trees and downed electrical wires, to leave their dark houses and watch the monumental display of white water.

Before 6 p.m. Aug. 29, 2011, five men entered the Croton River in a blue, inflatable, white-water rafting boat at Croton Gorge Park. By 6 p.m., a passing motorist on the Ossining side of the Croton River was flagged down for help by Kenneth Giaquinto, 37, of Valhalla, who came ashore from the then-capsized craft.

About 6:30 p.m., Peter Engel, 53, of Cross River was found floating in the Croton River. He was unresponsive as he was pulled aboard a first responders' vessel. He was later pronounced dead at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center.

One videographer captured Engel and the four other rafters just before they entered the water. The footage shows a team conferring on where to enter the water, and has attracted comments from YouTube users identifying themselves as family, friends and first responders.

From the perspective of village first responders, Engel's death is a reminder that their safety is also in jeopardy during such incidents.

"We're in danger in that situation. Just that fact that you're up there during that, we had reports during the calls that there was a missing party, we saw the white-water raft stuck on Paradise Island. Both myself and Officer Gredo, while going there, were swept away in currents," said Detective Sgt. John Nikitopoulos of the Croton Police Department.

Since 2007, Croton police have documented 14 drowning incidents on the Croton River, four of them deaths.

After the vessel overturned, Croton police, fire and county officials, were able to pull two of the rafters to safety. Joseph Ceglia, 33, of White Plains and Brian Dooley, 33, of Yorktown Heights were found separately, clinging to trees in the rapids. Two more rafters were able to swim to safety.

"We have been taking some classes and have started doing some training on rope rescues in an effort to be able to remove people from the water, if we can't get to them by boat," Nikitopoulos said.

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