Record-high water and questions about the Gilboa Dam’s status led authorities to sound the flood siren early Sunday afternoon as Irene dumped several inches of rain on the area.
Evacuated residents fled, some believing they would have been safe at home, others believing that their homes likely would be flooded.
The dam, the subject of much concern and an expensive rehabilitation project, held. But concern was raised after officials lost contact with monitoring sensors.
Schoharie County spokeswoman Karen Miller said the dam has been inspected and continues to be inspected. It is expected to hold, she said.
Nonetheless, record amounts of water raged down the Schoharie Creek toward Montgomery County and the Mohawk River.
The water flooded homes, covered roads and washed out bridges. Among the bridges lost was the historic Old Blenheim Bridge, washed away sometime Sunday afternoon, Miller confirmed.
“We are asking people who have been evacuated to stay at their locations and not try to come back into the county,” Miller said Sunday evening. “There are a lot of structures still being reviewed for safety purposes.”
Evacuations occurred all along the Schoharie Creek, at Middleburgh, Schoharie and elsewhere.
According to The Associated Press, the state’s Division of Military and Naval Affairs was redirecting National Guardsmen, airmen and members of the Naval Militia to Greene and Schoharie counties to provide assistance. Seventy airmen and 20 soldiers were sent to Schoharie County, the AP reported. The county was among several approved for federal assistance, according to the governor’s office.
Water rose to record levels along the Schoharie Creek. At Breakabeen, water rose to 22.3 feet; the record was 20.5 in 1996. At Burtonsville, water was at 9.4 feet Sunday evening, but it was expected to rise as high as 18 feet overnight. The record there was 12.9 feet.
The record flooding came as Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the New York Power Authority’s Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project in Blenheim to inspect it for possible earthquake damage from a small quake the day before. That project is north of the Gilboa Dam, which is a dam for New York City’s Schoharie Reservoir.
There was no damage from the earthquake, and talk quickly turned to the pressing storm.
New Yorkers, the governor said, like to think they’re tough and can handle anything.
“But they’re also smart, and this is the time to be smart,” Cuomo said, adding a short time later, “We’re smart enough to know we don’t mess with Mother Nature and let the storm take its course and we’ll get on with business.”
The now-washed out Old Blenheim Bridge is only a short drive from the power station where the governor spoke.
The old covered bridge was on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1855 and spanned 232 feet, credited as the world’s longest wooden, single-span, two-lane covered bridge. It hadn’t been used by cars since the 1930s.
To accommodate Schoharie Valley evacuees, officials opened up their planned emergency shelters at several schools and other sites expected to be out of harm’s way.
At least one shelter, at a Schoharie school, had to be moved to Shalmont Middle School in Rotterdam as the shelter itself was threatened.
Despite the evacuations, scanner traffic indicated rescues were needed into the evening.
Annamarie Penetta could attest to how dangerous the roads were on Sunday. She lives in Middleburgh with her five dogs next to the creek. “I’m sure it’s flooded,” she said.
Penetta got stuck on Route 30 while evacuating with her dogs. She was trying to turn around, but couldn’t.
Then a volunteer with a local fire department came upon her and got Penetta and her dogs to the shelter and safety.
“I was glad, I was surprised, a couple other people just kept going,” an emotional Panetta said at Schalmont.
She said she would have gotten out sooner, but she didn’t have anywhere to go with her dogs. “Everybody said to leave them there. I couldn’t leave ’em.”
Helping Panetta was Schoharie resident and volunteer firefighter Tim Simmons. He even helped her walk the dogs into the school and brought them water. But they had to work to find dishes for them to drink from.
Simmons said he helped the Gallupville Fire Department evacuate people there, then went out on his own to see if anyone needed help.
“I headed in that direction and happened to stumble on her,” Simmons said, adding a short time later, “I cleared out the back of my seat and said ‘get in.’ ”
Most of the residents at Schalmont were from the village of Schoharie. They were bused over, many with their pets. Dogs, cats and birds accompanied their owners to safety.
Red Cross volunteers handed out water and snacks.
For Janet and Gary Bailey, of Schoharie, they expected the police to knock. With the couple were their two chihuahuas, Baby Girl and Melissa. They also had their cat, Molly.
Janet Bailey said she wasn’t sure what they would find when they returned home. They live less than a quarter-mile from the creek.
“It’s nature and it’s just taking its course,” Janet Bailey said. “We will ride it out as long as we have to. We may lose everything, we may not. If we do, we start over and begin again.”
Schoharie resident Shirley Crowell, 77, was among those residents who didn’t understand why they had to go. She said she lives on the second floor, and she was prepared with food and water for both her and her cat Precious.
“There was no need for me, no reason for me to go out,” she said. “I was upstairs. I live upstairs. If it was on the bottom floor, I could understand.”
Helen Diamond and her daughter Myra, though, understood the need for them to evacuate.
They got a knock on the door, police telling them they had 10 minutes to evacuate.
Diamond packed her medicine, grabbed their dog Peanut and kitten and they fled.
“We’re on the bottom floor,” Diamond said, “so everything’s probably gone. We’ve probably got nothing to go back to.”
Power was out in Middleburgh by 9:30 a.m. Apple Foods, a small convenience store and gas station at the corner of routes 30 and 145, was all but shut down by then.
One woman asked clerk Raman Singh if she could pay cash for gas. The pumps, though, were inoperable because there was no power.
“Just waiting for it to come back,” Singh told The Daily Gazette in the darkened store. “It’s crazy, man, it’s crazy.”
Categories: Schenectady County