FORT PLAIN Nothing could have prepared Steven Webber for the disaster that swept into his Abbott Street home early Friday morning.
The 35-year-old contractor was getting ready for work when he opened the front door of his mobile home and realized the Otsquago Creek was rising dangerously fast. The roar of the rushing water alone was enough to spook Webber into fleeing the property with his fiancée and her two children.
“There was a stand of trees all along the creek, and they just toppled like dominoes,“ he said. “The water was intense, and it came up so fast.”
Webber waded through waste-deep water, then scrambled up a hill with his fiancée and her children. He estimated their flight took about five minutes, during which the creek rose another two feet.
“We didn’t even have time to grab clothes,” he said.
Something pierced his home, allowing the roaring creek to sweep through. And when the water receded, there was nothing left inside.
All of his furniture was sucked out of the structure, leaving it empty, aside from the pictures that were hanging on the walls above the high-water mark. A gold sedan owned by one of his neighbors landed in the side of his garage.
“You work all your life, and it takes about 30 seconds to wash it away,” said Webber, who didn’t have flood insurance.
But Webber at least escaped the flood. He said his neighbor — 87-year-old Ethel Healey — wasn’t as lucky.
The lot where Healey’s double-wide mobile home once stood was stripped bare. Webber said his neighbor was home at the time and doesn’t believe she made it out before the floodwaters uprooted her residence.
“She’s gone,” he said. “She was home in her trailer. It’s gone.”
Police Chief Robert Thomas III said he’s still trying to account for all the residents along Abbott Street. He said officers tried to warn residents along the street that the water was rising.
“They were banging on doors trying to get residents out,” he said. “[The creek] rose in 10 minutes or so.”
The torrent of water cascaded through the small village, choking many streets with a nearly inch-thick layer of mud. Some residents routed from their homes were left in a state of despair, wondering what would come next.
Stacey Crouse, 29, of Division Street, awoke Friday to an NY-Alert message on her cellphone. Moments later, she was watching water cascading across her yard.
Crouse walked through knee-deep water to get to her Dodge Dakota pickup truck. Amazingly, it cranked up, allowing her to pick up several friends and head for shelter.
“I was crying,” she recalled Friday afternoon.
Outside a shelter set up at Harry Hoag Elementary School, Sahoutah Lanier stood dumbfounded. The 42-year-old mother’s basement apartment was inundated and her children’s clothing was ruined.
“This is the breaking point right now,” she said. “I have to go home and look at the fact that my kids have nothing.”
Her brother, Chris, 39, described what he saw as “total devastation.” Many stores in the village were shuttered by the flood, some having suffered significant damage.
The Save A-Lot supermarket and Dollar General store on River Street were submerged in more than four feet of silt-laden water. Mayor Guy Barton said the small shopping plaza sustained significant damage during the flood and was unsure of its future.
“It’s going to take us a lot to get back,” he said from the village offices, which were filled with roughly five inches of water during the peak of flooding.
Barton said the village imposed an 8 p.m. curfew for Friday and today to prevent criminal activity. Utility crews were shutting down electricity and cutting off gas throughout the village, he said.
On Main Street, apartment building owner Zofia Kost stood in disbelief, but she took the destruction — including two basement units that were filled with water — in stride.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo toured the devastation and offered words of encouragement. He said the state has been through situations like the flood before and are prepared to respond accordingly.
“The good news is we know how to handle it,” he said. “We will get through this like we have gotten through far worse than this in the past.”