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‘A real nightmare’ (with photo gallery)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
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One of few homes that remain on Priddle Road in the town of Esperance
on Tuesday.
One of few homes that remain on Priddle Road in the town of Esperance on Tuesday.

Waters from the swollen Schoharie Creek surged through the middle of Esperance, swallowing anything near its banks.

Much of the once-scenic neighborhood on Priddle Road was reduced to a scattering of smashed foundations and pockmarked pavement. Entire structures were plucked from the ground and flung downstream, along with livestock, vehicles and anything else that was in the path of the rushing floodwaters.

“There were cars that were swept into the creek, there were cars abandoned on [state] Route 30A,” said Supervisor Earl Van Wormer III. “It’s a real nightmare here.”

Large swaths of the Schoharie County town were left in ruins Monday, after runoff from Tropical Storm Irene raised the creek more than a foot over its highest recorded level in the town of Gilboa upstream. The result was devastating for Esperance, a small rural town of roughly 2,000 people.

Van Wormer estimated about a third of all the structures in the town were either flooded, badly damaged or destroyed by the raging creek. The creek consumed crops and swept away livestock from area farms.

“There are places where people won’t be back in their homes for months,” he said. “It’s going to be a long haul.”

Members of the National Guard were deployed to the county to help rescue those residents who didn’t make it out of their homes during evacuations on Sunday. Flooding along the Schoharie wrecked nine bridges and destroyed parts of more than 40 roads.

And the damage from the flood didn’t end along the banks of the Schoharie. The torrent of water washed into the Mohawk River, causing widespread flooding throughout Montgomery and Schenectady counties.

More than 150 people were displaced by flooding in Montgomery County. In neighboring Schenectady County, officials were preparing to shut down municipal water pumps to prevent contamination if floodwaters continued to rise.

Entire blocks of Schenectady’s historic Stockade neighborhood became inundated by the fetid waters of the Mohawk. Part of the Fonda Fairgrounds was also consumed by the flood, prompting organizers to postpone the annual fair for two days.

“There’s incalculable losses that people have incurred,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, after touring a wide breadth of the damaged areas Monday. “The damage is significant and well beyond a 100-year flood.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will assuredly qualify for federal assistance. He flew over the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys to observe some of the worst-affected areas, but declined to speculate what the cleanup will cost.

“I’d just be guessing at this point,” he said during a news conference at the state Capitol.

Britt Westergard, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said the massive flooding was caused by the heavy sustained rains that battered the Schoharie Valley as the stormed passed through on Sunday. In the Greene County town of East Durham, 13.3 inches of rain was recorded.

This sudden inundation prompted a rapid swelling of the Schoharie, which in turn prompted flooding along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Westergard said the Mohawk was at its highest level since 1996, but remained about five feet lower than the record set in 1914.

Floodwaters were blamed for at least two deaths in the Capital Region. They were among at least seven storm-related fatalities across the state. In Albany County, 68-year-old Sharon Stein apparently got caught in the rising waters of the Onesquethaw Creek while trying to evacuate her Clarksville residence shortly after noon Sunday. Her body was recovered a short distance away from her home about four hours later, according to state police.

In the Montgomery County town of Glen, a man is presumed dead after his pickup truck was swept away on Route 5S. State police spokeswoman Maureen Tuffey said the man, who was not identified, was apparently frustrated by a road closure when he attempted to cross a section of road near the Schoharie Creek.

“He was just trying to get through,” she said.

State officials indicated that 124 people needed to be rescued throughout the Catskills and Schoharie County areas. Howard Glaser, the director of state operations, said many people were trapped by the sudden rise in water levels.

“Many of those people were stuck in buildings or cars as the floodwaters rapidly rose,” he said during a news conference in Albany.

Bridges across the surging Schoharie Creek were closed as a result of the flooding. State officials want a chance to inspect the structural integrity of the structures once the flood waters recede.

The westbound lanes of the Thruway were shut between Amsterdam and Canajoharie. Thruway Authority spokesman Mike Sullivan said the eastbound lanes were closed from Syracuse all the way to Amsterdam, about 100 miles, to help divert traffic away from flood-affected areas.

“This more of a volume and a precautionary situation,” he said.

Reach Gazette reporter Justin Mason at 395-3113 or jmason@dailygazette.net.

 
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comments

August 30, 2011
7:54 p.m.
mschultz says...

Isn't it time for us all to call the Schoharie Creek a "RIVER". It has always been far from being a creek!

August 30, 2011
8:04 p.m.
mschultz says...

Over my 30 years of photo news gathering for the Gazette, I have been to so many tragic ordeals from Gilboa to Fort Hunter, on this violent, volatile "Creek."

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