By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The hurricane that might be renamed Wicked Witch Irene has wiped out pumpkin crops in flooded fields throughout the Northeast, where farmers on Saturday were scrambling to meet demand before Halloween.
Some farmers' crops were decimated, forcing them to buy pumpkins from luckier farmers with healthy crops to meet their customers' demands for the festive, fleshy orange fruit.
"We've been getting calls from farmers saying, 'My crop is gone,'" said farmer Dennis Kelly whose pumpkin fields in the upstate New York town of Queensbury were left soggy but not destroyed by Hurricane Irene and her sidekick Tropical Storm Lee.
Growers such as Kelly have been barraged with calls to fill the void, and they are shipping pumpkins further than ever before.
As a result, his pumpkins will be debuting in some stores in New York City and its suburbs in Westchester County.
"It's pretty sad that after all that work, people have to turn around and buy a crop. All that work, and in two storms have everything gone," Kelly said.
"There's been quite a few calls - they've lost their crop, most of them," said Cindy Raggi, who with her husband Joe harvests 10 acres of pumpkins in Fort Edward, New York.
Flooded fields meant not only waterlogged pumpkins that rotted on the vine but also a host of unfamiliar crop threats that turned the luscious orange orbs to mush.
"It's amazing what came out of that storm - fungus, mold and mildew not seen around here before," said Kelly.
Luckily this was a banner year for pumpkins so a shortage may be averted. Only time will tell whether supplies can keep up with demand from jack-o'-lantern carvers and pumpkin pie bakers throughout the Northeast.
"It was a bumper crop this year," Raggi said. "We got a lot of rain, but not like those poor folks did."
Historic flooding caused by the storms triggered the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people and prompted President Barack Obama to declare emergencies in states from Vermont to Virginia.
Even those farmers who managed to keep their heads -- and crops -- above water were struggling to bring in the harvest before it is ruined while sitting on saturated ground.
"I can't get a tractor out there because the ground's just too wet, so I'm using a team of mules and horses," said Kelly. "It's much slower, but we feel very fortunate."
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)