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Lightning injures 3 Rotterdam workers

‘Hero’ fireman rescues pair stranded in van by flood

July 2, 2014
Updated 10:40 p.m.
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This truck was hit by lightning while Rotterdam Highway Department workers were loading it with empty boxes at the water station on Curry Road. Four workers were zapped. They were cleaning up the station, which was set up for residents affected by a boil-water advisory.
Photographer: Ned Campbell
This truck was hit by lightning while Rotterdam Highway Department workers were loading it with empty boxes at the water station on Curry Road. Four workers were zapped. They were cleaning up the station, which was set up for residents affected by a boil-water advisory.

A previous version of this story gave the wrong number of workers struck by lightning. Three workers were struck during the storm.

Three Rotterdam highway workers survived a lightning strike Wednesday.

They had spent most of the day providing residents affected by a boil-water advisory with drinking water at the old Curry Road Shopping Plaza when the lightning hit a truck they were loading with empty cardboard boxes at about 2:20 p.m.

One of the workers was “laid out on the ground,” Highway Superintendent Larry LaMora said after the three men, who suffered minor injuries, were sent by ambulance to Ellis Hospital.

“They were putting them empty boxes in the packer and the lightning hit the truck, and the guys that were near the truck got zapped,” he said.

Wednesday’s storm also led to reports of flash flooding and submerged vehicles, and downed power lines across the region, as well as reports of collapsing ceilings and walls. Thousands of residents lost power, and by 9 p.m. about 150 National Grid and NYSEG customers in the Capital Region were still without power.

On Merlin Drive off Route 7 in Niskayuna, a District 2 firefighter used a raft to rescue two people from a minivan caught in rising waters. They were uninjured.

The female driver worked at a Living Resources home for disabled adults on Merlin Drive and the male passenger, who was sitting in the back seat, was an elderly resident there who could not walk on his own, neighbors who witnessed the rescue said.

Firefighters were called to the scene at about 3:20 p.m. after the minivan became caught in a low spot.

“The water was up to the seat,” said Merlin Drive resident Betty McKone, 63.

“She got stuck in the street, the fireman went out to save her — he was my hero,” said Terry Taite, 62, also of Merlin Drive.

At 4 p.m., the minivan was still submerged in water, as was an SUV that had been parked on the street and now had its flashers on. Taite’s husband, Steve, 62, was sweeping water out of their garage and onto the driveway, which had buckled from the rush of water. He moved his Mustang from the driveway onto the front lawn when the waters started to rise.

“It was a strong current,” he said. “It knocked the firefighter down when he tried to cross it to get to the car.”

Elsewhere in town, a home at 809 Harris Drive sustained damage to two basement walls during the storm. Both walls were compromised, District 2 Fire Chief Charlie Friderici said. The residents evacuated and utilities were shut off, he said.

In all, the District 2 department responded to 17 or 18 calls Wednesday afternoon, mostly for water in basements. He expected that number to possibly get up to 25 by day’s end.

Supervisor Joe Landry reported multiple roads flooded, mostly in the eastern part of town, including Rosendale Road near Niska Isle.

“Highway crews are out there barricading streets right now,” Landry said midafternoon.

Weaver Street in Schenectady was closed to traffic after water filled up a low spot under a bridge. The driver of a pickup truck was observed driving around the barricade and making it through the rushing water. The driver of a car that tried to do the same became stuck.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday issued a flash flood warning for Schenectady, Saratoga, Albany and Rensselaer counties from 2:21 to 8:30 p.m.

The weather service also issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Schenectady, Schoharie and Albany counties, which was lifted at around 3:15 p.m.

The weather service warned that the storm was “capable of producing damaging winds in excess of 60 mph.”

In Rotterdam, the storm — and the lightning — struck at a time when about 22,000 residents are without drinkable water.

“It’s unfortunate,” Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder said. “What a crazy few days.”

The highway workers who were struck by lightning were trying to pack up the water station because the storm was proving difficult, knocking down tents and soaking the empty cardboard boxes that once stored bottles of water. They had taken shelter in the adjacent fire station before coming out during what they thought was a lull in the storm.

“We wanted to get them all picked up before the rain, and all of a sudden, the rain came fast and bam! Lightning hit,” LaMora, the highway superintendent, said.

The water station, which closed for the rest of the day, will reopen at 9 a.m. today.

 
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