Susan Cooley paddled up to a gentle slope on North Street and produced a black warrior statuette from her canoe.
The one-time Stockade resident with family still living in the historic neighborhood proudly exchanged the figure with North Street homeowner Stephen Reichart, who handed over a wooden lawn gnome he rescued in his inflatable kayak just a few minutes earlier. Both had floated away from their respective lawns when more than five feet of water swept in from the nearby Mohawk River.
The items were among a host of bizarre findings the two and others pulled from the flooded area. From lawn ornaments to entire front stoops, they were on the lookout for just about anything that could be salvaged from the devastation that swelled up around the homes north of Front Street.
“It’s unbelievable, but there’s no control over it,” Cooley said of the flood. “You just have to let Mother Nature do her thing.”
Many seemed resigned to the fate of their properties. Some even took a lighthearted approach to what will assuredly be one of the worst floods the neighborhood has endured in modern history.
One North Street resident trudged through the murky brown water toward his second-story apartment and emerged on his front porch several minutes later with a fishing pole, determined to catch one of the pike rumored to be taking refuge along the street. Others blasted music and flung firecrackers from their flooded homes, giving the flood-ravaged area an almost festive feel.
“How do you contend with something like this? You do the best you can,” said North Street resident Donna Lagone. “And you have to laugh a little bit too.”
Torrential downpours from Tropical Storm Irene swelled many of the Mohawk’s tributaries, prompting the river to rise more than 14 feet over a 36-hour period between early Sunday morning and Monday afternoon.
Many Stockade residents evacuated the neighborhood on Sunday, only to return to homes that were badly flooded by Monday morning. City officials initially feared the Mohawk would crest at more than 230 feet above sea level, but the river finally started to subside after reaching 226.2 feet shortly after 2 p.m.
The level of the Mohawk was its highest in Schenectady since 1996. But many longtime Stockade residents couldn’t recall a time when the flooding was worse.
“My refrigerator is floating on its side in my kitchen,” lamented Reichart after paddling back from his home.
Floodwater submerged the jungle gym and swing sets in Riverside Park. Rushing currents ripped through low-lying backyards, toppling stockade fences with ease.
Word about the impending flood spread through email groups in the Stockade prior to the storm on Sunday. City police tried to evacuate many of the residents Sunday, but some remained in their darkened homes until the floodwaters rapidly crept in.
Acting Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said the now-receding water will assuredly reveal a massive amount of damage to any area near the surging Mohawk. He was left impressed by the resilient attitude of the Stockade’s residents in wake of such clear devastation.
“It’s still a tremendous hardship and inconvenience that these people are put through during a flood event,” he said.
Residents at the Riverside condominium building watched nervously as the floodwaters toppled their fence, enveloped their parking lot and then swallowed their swimming pool. Resident Bruce Holden pointed to the submerged pool, only identifiable by the tip of a metal ladder protruding from the floodwater.
“This is our former pool,” he said. “I saw it die.”
But like others, Holden was relieved the flood didn’t take any lives. He said the physical damage in its aftermath can be rectified.
“This can be fixed,” he said, gesturing to the flooded neighborhood. “There’s a lot of damage and a lot of property loss, but no loss of life.”
At nearby Schenectady County Community College, two of the main buildings on campus were flooded up to the first floor. Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said college workers were trying to protect the library, but feared the worst.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “It’s a horrible feeling because I can’t get down over there. It’s bad.”
Angie Krogh had the misfortune of moving into a Stockade apartment only three days before the flood. On Sunday, she and her boyfriend had the dubious honor of moving most of her belongings out.
Everything else was ruined. When she managed to get to the building, she saw her bed floating inside.
“Regardless of how long I was there, it was still my home and it’s still upsetting,” she said.
Dorothy Nangle had evacuated the Stockade like many residents along the neighborhood’s deadend streets. She returned to see the floodwater wash up against her Ingersoll Avenue home.
But like Holden, Nangle remained optimistic. She said the Stockade community will come together to rise above the destruction left by the flood.
“Everybody got out alive,” she said. “Everybody’s OK. The thing is, we’ve lost a lot of things. But we can replace those.”