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Woman missing, others unaccounted for after flooding

Much of Fort Plain inundated by creek

Friday, June 28, 2013
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A view from the Reid Street bridge over the Otsquago Creek in the village of Fort Plain, with Abbott Street to the right, after a flash flood hit the area June 28. The Reid Street bridge had remained closed until Thursday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
A view from the Reid Street bridge over the Otsquago Creek in the village of Fort Plain, with Abbott Street to the right, after a flash flood hit the area June 28. The Reid Street bridge had remained closed until Thursday.

— A Fort Plain woman and perhaps other village residents are unaccounted for after destructive flash flooding tore through the heart of the village early Friday.

Authorities said more than 100 residents were evacuated to higher ground as the Otsquago Creek surged out of its banks, taking mobile homes, vehicles and other structures with it and inundating businesses and homes that were rebuilt after massive flooding seven years earlier, to the day, in 2006.

Mayor Guy Barton said it wasn’t yet certain by 6 p.m. Friday, but the floodwaters may have claimed the life of a woman living in a mobile home.

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“Unfortunately, we are looking for a missing person,” he said.

The mayor said he witnessed both a mobile home and what appeared to be a garage strike the Route 5S bridge that crosses the Otsquago Creek not far from his home. He said he was aware of other structures that “disappeared” from near the creek on Route 80.

Richard Brown said his ex-wife’s mother, Ethel Healey, 87, who lived in a mobile home on Abbott Street, was missing. The mobile home was not there later Friday, according to Brown, a local official and a neighbor.

A former railroad bridge now used for the Erie Canalway Trail hung precariously in the Otsquago Creek late Friday.

Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato said earlier in the day officials were hoping to shore it up to ensure it didn’t completely collapse. It would block the creek’s path to the Mohawk River if it did.

It appeared businesses on both sides of Main Street were shut down as flooding affected an area a mile or more beyond the creek’s banks. Save-A-Lot, Dollar General, Daylight Donuts and the Nice-and-Easy convenience store were all put out of commission, at least temporarily, Barton said. He said upgrades and renovations were recently completed at the convenience store.

“We are a community that’s committed to fighting back, to overcome the things that happen to us. We will come back again,” he said.

Officials gathered at midday to update journalists on their response to the disaster. Undersheriff Jeff Smith — who also serves as assistant chief of the Fort Plain Fire Department — described water rising so fast firefighters became “landlocked.”

Officials had to wait until the water started to recede before attempting more rescues, Smith said.

Fort Plain Police Chief Robert A. Thomas III said officers told residents of Abbott and Reid streets — which run on either side of the Otsquago Creek at the southern end of the village — to evacuate as the flooding began. Some left, but others refused. The water rose so quickly officers themselves became stranded until midday, and at least some of the residents who stayed behind scattered up and over a hill behind their homes.

This contributed to the confusion, as flood victims could not be accounted for at a shelter set up at Harry Hoag Elementary School and could not be spotted from a state police helicopter due to heavy foliage. Assistance was requested from other agencies using search and rescue dogs.

Thomas asked anyone who fled the area to check in with his department at 993-3781 and let authorities know they were safe.

He said all of Abbott Street and much of Reid Street sustained substantial damage, with several small buildings pulled off their foundations or destroyed altogether.

There was also new trauma for residents who have suffered repeated flooding in recent years, including similarly devastating storms on June 28, 2006. People were scraping mud from the sidewalk, generators and pumps were humming and road crews were pulling a tree out of the middle of Main Street later Friday.

“It floated down the street,” said Joshua Mickels, 32, who was scooping muddy water from the front entrance to his Main Street apartment.

Mickels said he awoke to the sound of a woman screaming, looked out his window and saw her on top of her car.

“I tied all my extension cords together but I couldn’t reach her,” he said, interrupting his thought to tell his children not to play in the floodwater because it was contaminated.

Rescuers came with an airboat and rescued the woman, Mickels said.

“We saw a dead cow go floating by,” he said.

Amato earlier Friday said the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office also rescued people from buildings using the airboat.

The Erie Canal, meanwhile, still undergoing repairs for damage inflicted by recent flooding, sustained new damage in a roughly 100-mile stretch Friday.

Montgomery County was on a list of 15 counties designated disaster areas by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The list also included Schoharie County, where flash floods caused similar devastation in Middleburgh and Schoharie two weeks ago.

“The state is taking action to provide immediate assistance and support to counties in the Mohawk River Valley which are experiencing floods,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I will be closely monitoring the situation and my administration will continue to coordinate with first responders in all of the affected flooded areas. I urge New Yorkers in these areas to monitor news reports and follow directions from emergency personnel on the ground.”

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jerome M. Hauer added in a statement, “With more rain in the forecast, there is a potential for more flooding in more areas in the region. We are asking people to stay alert, listen to emergency instructions and cooperate with local officials if needed.”

The declaration specifically identified the town of Minden, which includes Fort Plain.

 
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