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September 9, 2011

Area crews scramble as flood waters near crest

'Catastrophic flooding' inundates Sidney area

By Mark Boshnack
Staff Writer

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Though some areas were starting to recover from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee on Thursday, several localities along the Susquehanna River dealt with more flooding.

There were numerous roads closed, and schools were canceled throughout much of the area because of the storm the started late Tuesday. Some districts announced Thursday they will be closed today. These include Oneonta City School District, Afton and Bainbridge-Guilford Central schools. Downsville Central School announced a two-hour delay.

"Catastrophic flooding" in Sidney could be similar to what hit the area in 2006, Delaware County Emergency Services Director Richard Bell said. His agency was preparing for a "significant" event, with the river cresting Thursday evening.

According to the National Weather Service, at 8 p.m. the river at Unadilla was at 16.24 feet; the 2006 historic crest was 17.72 feet. The river at Bainbridge was at 26.07 feet, with the 2006 peak at 27.03 feet. It did not list the Sidney totals.

Delaware County Emergency Services personnel were watching the situation at Deposit, with the Cannonsville Reservoir spilling. The Pepacton Reservoir continues to spill, but areas in Downsville and sites in Colchester south of the dam have been evacuated, Bell said. Areas that were flooded late last month, including Margaretville and Fleischmanns, were not significantly impacted by this event.

In the village of Sidney, with flooding forcing the evacuation of homes and businesses in areas near the Susquehanna River, a curfew from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. has been established, Mayor Andrew Matviak said. This includes the area north of the railroad tracks. The river appeared to have peaked at about 8 p.m. The situation, including the state of emergency, will be evaluated this morning, he said.

There were about 100 people at the town shelter set up at the middle school. That was opened after the American Red Cross Shelter at St. Luke's Lutheran Church was filled, with 40 residents.

Amphenol Corp. is getting some severe flooding and it was taking emergency measures, he said. Personnel there could not be reached. MeadWestvaco was closed because of the weather, but they did not have any damage from the storm, Matviak said.

Chenango County

In Chenango County, Afton and Bainbridge were the hardest hit with flooding that could be greater than in 2006, Deputy Fire Coordinator Michael Beckwith said. Numerous shelters have been setup around the county. This includes Greenlawn Elementary School in Bainbridge, there were also sites in New Berlin, Greene and the North Norwich campus of DCMO Boces. The county state of emergency is modified starting at 5 a.m. today. It keeps the road closure order in effect for the towns of Greene, Coventry, Bainbridge and Smithville. Other roads are reopened under a travel advisory. No unnecessary travel is recommended even in areas where travel is possible.

"There are still dozens of local, county and state roads that have been severely damaged during this historic flood," county Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Decker said in a media release. "Many will be closed for days or weeks to come. If you must travel, please exercise caution."

Schoharie County public information officer Karen Miller did not return a call for comment Thursday afternoon.

Otsego County

In Otsego County, Office of Emergency Services Coordinator Kevin Ritton said the southern part of the county was hardest hit, including Unadilla, Otego, Wells Bridge and Gilbertsville. The original forecast called for rain Thursday similar to Wednesday. A dry period Thursday has helped with the cleanup.

He said he was hopeful that will allow for better assessment of road damages around the county today. The emergency order for Otsego County was amended today, according to a media release from the county department of Emergency Services. As of 4 p.m., the ban on all travel except emergency vehicles was lifted. A travel advisory had been issued for all roads in the county. Caution is advised since hazardous driving conditions could be encountered.

Unadilla Mayor David Welch said that there was a mandatory evacuation of homes between Main Street and the river Thursday morning. There was also an area of voluntary evacuations as the water rose, cutting off the village on both ends. "We're hoping the worst is over," he said Thursday afternoon.

About 15 homes will need to be checked for structural damage, he said. In 2006, there were about 100.

"We are working with local contractors to start the cleanup either today or Saturday. Other fire departments will help with the pump-out, when the waters recede sufficiently. The evacuation went smoother than it did in 2006," he said.

When the action started, there were no questions asked, he said, "They knew what could happen."

The emergency declaration for the city of Oneonta was lifted at 5 p.m., with the exception of Gault Avenue and Neahwa and Wilber parks, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said in a media release. Additionally, recreational use of any stream or body of water is prohibited until further notice.

The city received less than predicted rainfall Wednesday night and Thursday. Secondary streams, Oneonta Creek, and the waters behind the reservoirs' dams and Silver Creek dam have receded. The Susquehanna River was expected to reach its crest Thursday evening without endangering the wastewater treatment plant. All services have been maintained during the emergency, though many residents continue to deal with basement flooding and property washouts. Free parking in the garage and all city lots will continue until 7 a.m. Monday. Oneonta Public Transport will resume its normal schedule today.

Oneonta Fire Department Chief Patrick Pidgeon said his department transported one person to A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital with minor injuries when the ceiling over his bed collapsed because of a roof leak. Starting Wednesday at 8 a.m., the department responded to 45 incidents, including ambulance calls. In the first five hours Thursday, it responded to an additional dozen incidents.

This included evacuation of patrons from the Super 8 Motel and the Lantern Hill Mobile Home Park, near Walmart.

The county had an American Red Cross Shelter at St. Mary's Parish Center in Oneonta. There were about 120 people there Thursday afternoon.

This included several people from Lantern Hill Trailer Park, who talked about the situation.

Rosanne Viskovich said she got a knock on her door at 7 a.m., telling her to pack her things and leave because of flooding. Her yard was covered with water. She and her husband grabbed a few things and got to the shelter at 8 a.m. The people there have been "very nice," she said.

"It was hard to leave your comfort zone. It can be hard to be with so many people," she said. Being able to talk with neighbors helped, she said.

This included Laura Fessenden, who said she had five minutes to leave. The evacuation was very organized, she said.

Her daughter, Regina Dougherty, and her fiance were also at the shelter. She put out food for her cats before leaving. They were not allowed to bring the pets, she said.

An Oneonta Fire Department official said that the homes in the park will have to be inspected by a code enforcement officer, before people could return. There was no estimate when that would take place.

West Oneonta Fire Chief Frank Allen said among his department's flood-related activities, which have kept most of the department at the station since Wednesday morning, was an animal rescue involving seven goats and a cow, on Pony Farm Road. He did not have the details on who owned the animals but they were taken by a farmer for safety, he said.