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As Water Recedes, Cleanup Of A Soupy Mess Begins

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Much of the nation may have moved on from last week's hurricane, but about 2 million people are still without electricity in the Northeast. And now that floodwaters from Hurricane Irene have mostly receded, residents are shoveling muck from their houses.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimates damage in his state at about $1 billion.

"Over 600 homes destroyed; six towns inundated; 150 major highways have been damaged; 22 state bridges closed," reported Cuomo at a press conference.

One of the hardest hit areas of New York state is Schoharie County west of Albany. Near the small town of Middleburgh, Cindy Barber and her husband have a vegetable farm and roadside stand. But when nearby Schoharie Creek turned into a mile-wide river, much of their crop this year was destroyed and their home was flooded with 4 feet of water.

"Things came from one end of the house, floated on in to everyplace else. And then as the water went down, it swirled, and everything that landed tipped over," says Barber.

Insurance won't cover the damage.

As Barber sifts through her home — deciding what to salvage and what to throw out — there's an annoying buzz in the background. It's a smoke detector in the still-muddy basement that's been going off for several days now.

But when you're flooded out, minor annoyances aren't an issue. The Barbers are celebrating small victories — like a tractor that was submerged, but still works.

But such celebrations don't last long — look anywhere else and you'll see devastation. Take the shed that was full of fresh tomatoes before the storm. Now it's a soupy mess.

"Looks kind of like chili," jokes Jim Barber.

As workers clean up the muddy tomatoes, Barber heads out to survey the recently flooded fields.

"We have Swiss chard completely destroyed. The late tomato crop — completely destroyed. Our fall cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower — unharvestable," says Barber.

Most in Barber's position would be checking with their local USDA Farm Service Agency for help. But Barber is the New York state director for that agency. He's constantly on the phone organizing relief efforts.

"We did get additional funds from our office in Washington to move people to the county offices that are most affected, just to get some extra personnel there to help process the claim forms," says Barber.

Back at the house, Cindy Barber is washing two tan coats soiled by mud. She uses a large metal trash can filled with water.

"It was something my mother gave us, and she's not around anymore," says Barber. "So the idea is, 'Hey, I found both of them. So if I can rinse them out, maybe they'll go to great-grandchildren some day.' "

As she talks, a siren is heard as an emergency vehicle drives by on the road. A few minutes later the Barbers hear their neighbor's barn is on fire — they can see smoke rising from beyond the next hill.

"The hay that they had in the barn — when the bottom layers get wet they heat [up], and they didn't get it emptied out soon enough, so it evidently caught on fire," says Jim Barber.

When asked if the sight of someone's hard work going up in smoke is sickening, Barber responds: "Everything since Sunday's been pretty sickening."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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