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Fort Plain under the gun again

More rain forces evacuation of low-lying areas

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
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Franchise owner John Hart, right, walks through the wreckage of his Save-A-Lot food store in Fort Plain on July 1.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Franchise owner John Hart, right, walks through the wreckage of his Save-A-Lot food store in Fort Plain on July 1.

— The flood-weary residents of Fort Plain held their breath and moved to higher ground at dusk Monday, as new rain threatened new flooding three days after a deluge ruined so much of the village.

Police issued a mandatory evacuation order of the low-lying areas shortly after 8 p.m. Monday. Officers went door-to-door on Abbott Street and on Reid Street south of Abbott Street, insisting that everyone leave their homes for higher ground.

The Fort Plain Elementary School on High Street was open as a shelter.

Additional Flood Coverage

Gov. Andrew Cuomo calls on President Barack Obama to issue a federal disaster declaration for New York.

Fort Plain's economy will need help, including a new home for the Save-a-Lot.

The Fort Plain woman who was swept away in her mobile home only had minutes to react.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took an aerial tour of the damage on Friday.

Photos from the day of flooding and Sunday's cleanup efforts in Fort Plain

Late Monday evening as The Gazette went to press, what would happen to the Otsquago Creek was unclear. The ground in the region is saturated, and any new rain would have nowhere to go but the same creek that had caused so much damage Friday. But there were no reports of flooding yet.

Body found

The body of the woman who was washed away in her mobile home during Friday’s flash flood was found Monday evening.

Fort Plain Police Chief Robert A. Thomas III said Ethel Healey’s body was found just before 6 p.m., as floodwaters began to rise again.

They found her amid debris in the Mohawk River near Lock 14 in the town of Canajoharie, about 4 miles from where the house stood.

The timing of Monday’s flood threat was cruel, for the village residents and a small army of volunteers had just spent four long days cleaning up from Friday morning’s flood.

A wrecked steel bridge that once carried trains hovered above the Otsquago Creek in Fort Plain on Monday morning, one of several issues heavy on the mind of Montgomery County Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn.

“Right now that’s one of our highest priorities,” said Clayburn, who was devising ideas on how to get the old bridge up and out. If it collapsed the rest of the way, it would block off the creek’s path to the Mohawk River and the village would surely flood again.

“Somebody’s gotta get that bridge out of the creek,” he said.

Clinton Avenue is presenting another flooding concern: The Otsquago Creek washed away several feet of bank roughly 40 feet below Clinton Avenue, opposite Center Street, and Clayburn said a failure on that weakened slope would send tons of debris crashing into the creek, damming it up and causing another flood.

The Department of Transportation also closed Route 5S in Montgomery County, between Route 169 and County Route 213.

Officials from several state agencies were headquartered at the Fort Plain Senior Center on Canal Street, where Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., met with authorities before taking a tour of the devastation.

The county’s Social Services Department established an office there as well. Meanwhile, churches were taking on new roles, and volunteers traveled door-to-door.

Social Services Commissioner Michael McMahon said by Monday, roughly 80 hours of frustration and work in mud and muck left some people at “wit’s end.”

“People are saying this looks just like Prattsville,” he said, referring to the Greene County village that was torn up in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene.

Generators were humming while teams of public works crews blocked off sections of roadways to clear tons of people’s possessions off of the curbs.

Fort Plain Mayor Guy Barton said this flood ruined years of work that followed flooding in 2006.

“Unfortunately at this point many people have said they’ve had enough and they’re moving or don’t want to come back,” he said. “And that’s very sad for our community because we’ve come so far in what we’ve done. We can’t control the weather.”

Barton said 25 homes were “red-tagged” because they were uninhabitable, another 150 were without power and 258 had their gas shut off.

More than 30 people remained at the emergency shelter established at the Fort Plain Elementary School, Barton said.

FEDERAL HELP SOUGHT

Fort Plain is but one community in a large swath of destruction for which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York’s federal legislators were calling on a federal disaster declaration to get federal assistance on the ground.

The Governor’s office estimates nine out of 12 counties affected sustained more than $13 million in damage, some municipalities couldn’t yet estimate damages and the total of damage is expected to exceed $26.7 million — enough to qualify for federal disaster assistance, according to the governor’s office.

The weather-borne upheaval comes at a time when response to other disasters is still under way, Cuomo said in a letter to the White House.

“Without the support [of a disaster declaration], the additional burdens from this event will further undermine our ability to recover from the unrelenting impacts of Winter Storm Nemo, Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee,” Cuomo said in the letter.

“The risk to the safety of our citizens and the infrastructure of our state is very present, especially as we approach another hurricane season,” he said.

Federal legislators echoed Cuomo’s call for a disaster declaration.

“These communities are suffering and need every available resource from the federal government without delay so we can clean up, rebuild and stand strong,” Gillibrand said in a release issued jointly by her office and the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.

“This federal disaster assistance is necessary because it will give reassurance to our communities that the federal government will be there to help respond and recover,” Schumer said in the release.

TUNA AND BUCKETS

Crystal LaPlante loaded a cleaning kit into a victim’s car Monday morning from the Fort Plain United Methodist Church on Center Street and gave directions to the Fort Plain Reformed Church, where victims and volunteers are being asked to go to sign up for help or sign up to go help somebody.

LaPlante said she had 10 feet of water in her basement and a water pipe broke. Gas and power were both out at her Center Street home but she considered herself one of the lucky ones.

“My basement was full of mud but I didn’t lose anything, so I’m over here doing what I can to help now that I’ve got my mud out of my basement,” she said.

United Methodist Church Pastor Alan Griffith wrestled with frustration after running out of cleaning buckets and cleaning supplies — the Red Cross dropped off a truckload Sunday and it was gone by noon Monday.

A new truck stacked with supplies arrived not long afterward, as did Josh DeBartolo from Schoharie Recovery with several volunteers and a pickup truck loaded with more cleaning supplies.

DeBartolo also brought a stack of forms and other paperwork developed by Schoharie Area Long Term over the past 22 months of post-Irene flood rebuilding, which continues in Schoharie County.

A volunteer announced food and sandwiches over a megaphone from a Red Cross truck and kids on Center Street ran over to the back and got in line like it was an ice cream truck.

Red Cross volunteers were passing out containers of tuna fish, potato salad, bologna sandwiches, chips and water.

On Canal Street, Karen Morrell was organizing a cleanup at the home of her parents, who have now endured two major floods — one in 2006 when they lived on Mohawk Street in Canajoharie and again Friday in Fort Plain.

“This is the second time the family was hit,” said Morrell, who said numerous volunteers that included Amish residents came to help drag ruined belongings out to the curb.

Morgan Morell, 16, Taylor Andrews, 18, Ashley Andrews, 17 and Heather Lawson, 18, were busy on their hands and knees tearing out two layers of flooring in the kitchen.

“They’ve been working really hard,” said Kim Andrews.

“It’s a nightmare. When we first started this, we were like ‘where do we begin,’ ” said Andrews, as a youth from the Reformed Church walked by with a clipboard and asked “You guys need any help?”

more information

Officials, agencies and organizations sent out a variety of information on Monday, as follows:

FORT PLAIN: The 4th on the 3rd Celebration will go on as planned starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Wiles Park, Fort Plain Activities Council chairman James Katovitch said in a release.

“We feel that despite the devastation, the region needs something to celebrate and an event where we can all come together,” he said. The event will be scaled back — the horse-drawn hayrides are canceled because the field is soaked. Katovitch said there will be music, a chicken barbecue and fireworks that will start at 9:45 p.m.

National Grid workers are on the scene throughout the flood-affected region. Residents with gas emergencies or an odor of gas are asked to call 1-800-892-2345. People with electric outages or downed wires are asked to phone 1-800-867-5222. General questions about safety and service can be directed to 1-800-642-4272.

The American Red Cross is staffing the school shelter. Residents in need of Red Cross services are asked to call 518-458-8111.

The Montgomery County Public Health Department announced adult vaccinations will be administered at the office of Dr. Govind Rao at 16 Hancock St. from 1 to 3 p.m. today.

Emergency preparation information and other documents can be found on the Web at www.co.montgomery.ny.us/publichealth.

 
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