Local Firefighters Continue to Battle Flooding

Monday, 12 September 2011

By Stephanie Sorrell-White, The Telegram, Little Falls Times

Herkimer, N.Y. — For a third day, firefighters in the region answered calls from residents who were impacted by the flooding due to heavy rainfall earlier this week.

Lt. Lawrence Bellstedt with the Mohawk Fire Department said they had at least two more calls Friday morning, with over 60 calls in total related to flooding since Wednesday night.

“It was very, very memorable,” said Bellstedt.

 Bellstedt said there were about 26 volunteers with the department who worked throughout the ordeal. Some firefighters, he said, worked for a consecutive 28 hours in response to the flooding.

The East Herkimer Fire Department assisted to help pump out cellars, the fire corps was called in to help fill sandbags and members of the ladies auxiliary made sandwiches so the firefighters could continue with their work throughout the emergency.

Some of the Mohawk residents still pumping water out of their homes on Friday were on Charles, Devendorf and Firman streets, which are nearby Fulmer Creek.

 Ilion Deputy Fire Chief David Paddock said on Friday their department received “in excess of 100 calls with the past two days for flooding issues.”

“That’s way above average,” he said.

In Ilion, the bridge on Otsego Street was still closed Friday. Waters from Steele Creek overflowed onto English Street during the storm, where sandbags were still stacked. Though the waters had receded some by Friday, there were still some pools of water on the road.

Paddock said there was an all call out for firefighters in their department. By mid-afternoon on Wednesday, off-duty members were called in to help with sandbagging and flood related calls. He said about 20 members worked throughout the night, from Wednesday to Thursday.

“[The calls] slowed down today,” he said. “We had some extra personnel. We kind’ve gone back to normal, but still had quite a bit of pumping out and cleaning up.”

Rains from Tropical Storm Lee drenched the area on Wednesday and Thursday. It was the second time in ten days that rains from a tropical storm system flooded the area and the third time the valley saw such heavy rainfall. Villages throughout the area and Herkimer County declared state of emergencies.

Flooding also hit Montgomery County, which was hard hit from Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28 and had recently recovered from its effects.

“We had just gotten a lot of places pumped out, and they just got flooded for a second time in three or four days,” said Rick Sager, deputy director of Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management, on Friday during a telephone interview. “Things are thankfully slowing down. We haven’t had any precipitation and the river is receding fairly quickly, as well as the tributaries.”

Besides water from the rainfall, Sager said there was also a “tremendous amount of mud and debris along the roads.” This, he said, closed some lanes down and that crews were continuing to clean it up.

Some of the main roads in Montgomery County saw mudslides and culverts overflowing because it couldn’t handle the run-off. “We didn’t want anyone taking a chance in getting caught in high water or being trapped by a mudslide,” said Sager.

Sager said approximately 1,000 people were notified to evacuate, but did not know how many actually heeded the order. He said two shelters were set up in Amsterdam, one in Fort Plain and one in Canajoharie.

“I couldn’t tell ya just how much rain we got. It was a lot. It was a tremendous amount of rain,” said Sager.

He said the flooding issues they saw this time around was because of what they recently went through with Irene.  “It came right back-to-back. It flooded lots of areas because the ground was so saturated,” he said. “The water from the second storm didn’t have anywhere to go.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened a disaster relief center in Montgomery Count at the Riverfront Center’s North parking lot in Amsterdam. Planned hours of operation are Monday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

FEMA recommends that individuals seeking assistance from the center register before visiting. By phone, call the FEMA hotline at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For those with speech or hearing disabilities, use the TTY number, 800-462-7585. Applicants can also register online at DisasterAssistance.gov or with any PDA device at m.fema.gov.

On Friday, Gatehouse News Service reported the U.S. Geological Survey said rivers throughout the region are beginning to recede now that strong rains from earlier in the week have subsided Friday afternoon, those rivers include West Canada Creek, at Kast Bridge, which crested at more than seven feet early Thursday morning, more than a foot over flood stage. The creek has since dropped to a height of 4.65 feet; and the Mohawk River, at Little Falls, which crested at a height of 18 feet early Thursday, more than three feet over flood stage. The river has since dropped to 13.3 feet.

Effects from the storm caused many roads to close throughout the region, including parts of the New York State Thruway. The east and westbound exit ramps at Interchange 28 at Fultonville – Fonda reopened early Friday morning. Crews were working on a Thruway bridge that crosses Route 5S between Interchange 27 in Amsterdam and Interchange 28 in Fultonville and Fonda. A lane shift has been put into place at milepost 178, reducing the westbound travel lanes to a single lane.

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday he is seeking for President Obama to declare another major disaster for upstate New York flooding, this time including counties in the Southern Tier. The request is also for counties hit hard by Irene including Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida and Otsego counties. The federal declaration clears the way for federal aid.

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