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Amid devastating New York flooding, a stream of information

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Irene causes dam break
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Crowdsourced reports are streaming in from New York counties
  • They show firsthand images and accounts of businesses
  • Some show homes and entire towns entirely engulfed by water

Sharon Springs, New York (CNN) -- Hurricane Irene may have been a wash for New York City residents poised for the storm of the century, but counties in its upstate watershed will be feeling its effects for a long time.

Crowdsourced reports streaming in from New York's Dutchess, Ulster, Sullivan, Schoharie and Greene counties show firsthand images and accounts of businesses, homes and entire towns entirely engulfed by water.

Several deaths have been reported and many areas are in a state of emergency.

With official information in short supply as floodwaters rose, Julia Reischel and her team at Watershed Post (http://www.watershedpost.com/) employed a liveblogging service called Cover It Live to collect Twitter feeds from local news sources, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Red Cross, the hashtag #catskills as well as queries and reports from readers from around the region.

A dire picture quickly emerged.

"I just read about the Old Blenheim covered bridge being washed away. It was built in 1855 and was the longest single-span bridge in the world." wrote one commenter.

Another reported, "West branch river levels in Walton are expected to crest below 13 feet. Very fortunate for the Walton community who has had huge problems with flooding."

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A commenter named Henry shared, "No power in Hensonville -- Firehouse is open as a shelter, bridges and roads are washed out. Very bad situation in Windham, Maplecrest, Hensonville area."

Despite road closures, mandatory evacuations and widespread power and cell phone outages, residents of these towns reported the damage from the ground, uploading images and the damages around them.

While some towns such as Sharon Springs, New York, weathered several inches of steadily flowing water pouring down through the center of town, and Cairo and Durham encountered light flooding, video (http://www.watershedpost.com/2011/middleburgh-irene-update ) of nearby Middleburgh, New York, showed the town's main street overflowing from the storm-engorged Schoharie Creek that runs through the center of town.

From Twitter came, "@dannyhakim Pictures of flooded Arkville, N.Y., here: http://t.co/ldJCEFb and here:http://t.co/tp44UFd #irene #catskills"

Some of the worst damage fell upon the towns of Margaretville (https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=2314970564331 ) and Phonecia ( http://www.watershedpost.com/2011/phoenicia-residents-asked-evacuate-state-emergency-declared-many-side- ) , as well as the Schoharie Valley ( https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150272161572607&set=a.54681592606.66513.526582606&type=1&theater ) and a devastating series of photographs and reports emerged.

Homes, businesses and local landmarks were covered with water, and in some cases, washed away entirely.

Concerned family members and friends checked into the live feed for news on loved ones. A commenter named Ed asked, "I am very concerned as that was definately our garage that slid into the Batavia. My mom has a hardline phone in the house but probally does not realize it is a cordless requiring power. She is 70 and alone. We have not heard from her since 9:15 this morning."

A daughter, Missie, sought news of her mother, writing, "My Mom is trapped in Phoenicia which looks to be devastated. I don't mean to be selfish. It's just killing me not being able to reach her and the lack of news :("

Another named Chris noted, "I am clinging to this blog like a lifeline."

"Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams was one of the many people turning to the internet for any details from the scene. His 84-year-old father lives alone in Adams' hometown of Windam, New York, which by various reports has been hit by "total devastation."

Adams wrote a plea for information on his website ( http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/windham_ny_wiped_out/ ) and told CNN via email, "Windham is a small town, and any of the locals would know where my Dad lives, just up the hill from the flooded Main Street. I'm sure he's one of many seniors stranded with no electrical, no water, no phone, and no idea if anyone is going to find him soon. That would be the scariest part -- the not knowing when help might come."

Adams continued, "If he's home, which he should be, he's hunkered down with his flashlights and wood stove and canned foods and riding it out. I'm hoping the roads are clear tomorrow so someone, such as my sister, can get to him by car. But if he ventured outside, that's not good. His mobility is limited. Any help would be much appreciated."

"This is what we do during floods," Reischel said.

As publisher of Watershed Post, she and her team have given around 30 volunteers permission to moderate incoming comments and links on the liveblog so that both people watching from afar and those in the midst of the flooding have real time, useful information.

While Reischel and her team are currently high and dry working from a home in Andes, New York, their business headquarters in Delhi are currently under some water.

"This is not our first flood," she said. "Before this, like when Cat Hollow flooded in 2006, people would just listen to the police scanner, hunker down and not know much. This is about sharing information -- such as evacuations and shelter locations and drawing attention so the people who desperately need it can get some aid."

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