Officials get disaster glimpse

The thick hardwood floors that date to Prohibition are now gone from Russo’s Grill in Amsterdam — a

The thick hardwood floors that date to Prohibition are now gone from Russo’s Grill in Amsterdam — a victim of the Mohawk River, which hadn’t touched the West Main Street building since family members opened it up 91 years ago.

After tropical storms sent floodwater 4 feet deep into the facility, the interior is now gutted and there are no chairs to sit down on after a hard day.

But for Barbara Russo it’s not the furniture or decades-old wainscoting she misses most — it’s the aroma of the Italian kitchen.

“One thing you miss, you don’t smell the fresh bread baking, or the garlic,” said Russo, who, with her husband, Mike, reopened the landmark restaurant about 2 1⁄2 years ago, ending a nearly one-year closure and making it a third-generation business.

Federal and local officials toured the restaurant Monday before walking across the street to historic Guy Park Manor and state canal Lock E-11 — both of which were heavily damaged, first by Hurricane Irene and then by remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

How to help

There are many ways to help the people, schools and organizations hurt by the floods. Here are some links and ideas:

The closure of parts of the state’s canal system marks another loss to the Russos — some of their diners are boaters who make it a point to stop at Lock 11 when they can.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., toured the restaurant and then the lock and what’s left of Guy Park Manor on Monday, a trip the state’s senior senator said helps bring a sense of urgency to work in Washington.

“You can read about it, you can talk on the telephone about it, but to see it … people come from all over the country, sometimes from these locks here, to eat and to see it so damaged and to see the stoic and strong nature of Mike Russo and his wife and his uncle, it just gets to you,” Schumer said.

Schumer said after being elected he held his first Montgomery County meeting in 1999 at Guy Park Manor, which at the time served as an office for then-Assemblyman Paul Tonko.

“It symbolizes the history of the Mohawk Valley and the beauty of the Mohawk Valley and then, to see the power of the water to just [tear a side off the historic mansion] … I have an urgency,” Schumer said.

Tonko, now a congressman, emphasized the importance of tailoring laws in Washington to make sure the various pieces of history which drive tourism in the Mohawk Valley aren’t lost.

He said there’s still talk on Capitol Hill about identifying spending cuts before freeing up money to help.

That’s a viewpoint that doesn’t reflect the nature of the disaster, he said.

“This is a tragedy; it’s an extraordinary circumstance; it’s an emergency. People are living without shelter, they’ve had their life savings lost. This is the time for effective government to step up to the plate and not make excuses,” Tonko said.

He said he was given the floor during a recent caucus where he made use of photos detailing the nightmares that befell the Mohawk Valley.

“People understand it was a painful experience,” Tonko said.

Mike Russo’s grandfather opened the restaurant 91 years ago. It was most recently run by his uncle, Vincent Russo, who said it started as the Mohawk Grocery store and “maybe a speak-easy in back.”

He said in all this time he’s never seen the Mohawk River crest beyond the stone wall that sits across the street along the Guy Park Manor property.

Portions of the wall collapsed under the pressure of flooding from Tropical Storm Lee.

“I thought that was the Rock of Gibraltar,” Vincent Russo said.

So far, the Russos are putting the place back together on their own — they have regular insurance but not flood insurance, and their insurance company is telling them it was a flood that caused their damage, not a hurricane.

But Mike Russo said he intends to get the business that employs 10 people back up and running again regardless — he just hopes FEMA might be able to help.

“We had two choices. Either walk away or get it open again,” Mike Russo said.

“You can’t re-create places like this. The river doesn’t scare me, I grew up here,” he said.


Power transmission lines have been rerouted temporarily for roughly 20,000 people who lost service Saturday morning in a belated blow from Tropical Storm Lee.

Now utility crews are working on a more permanent fix.

Not to be outdone by the Sept. 4 tornado that ripped through Cranesville and Glenville, but spared the power lines, the raging Mohawk River cut a deeper path around the south side of Lock 10. It undermined land that had been partially repaired after Hurricane Irene, and sent three National Grid structures — a large switch box and two wood-based poles carrying the electric lines over the river — cascading into the water Saturday morning.

The utility on Monday called in helicopters in order to get power lines stretched back over the river to re-establish permanent electricity.

“This is a critical interconnection. That’s why we have to do this, it’s not something we can do without,” said Keith McAfee, National Grid’s vice president of electrical distribution for the upstate New York region.

The company needed helicopters to bring ropes from a tower on the south side of the river to another tower on the hill in Cranesville.

Those ropes will be attached to cabling that will likely be pulled to the north side today and then connected.

The structures that fell into the river will be replaced, but not in the same spot, he said.

For National Grid workers, McAfee said this weekend’s collapse added another chapter in a two-week story of destruction.

“For a lot of us I think … this is day 16 of pretty much 16-on, eight-off, 17-on, seven-off type of shifts,” McAfee said.

“We went from preparation for Hurricane Irene to restoration of Hurricane Irene, then we were just wrapping up with that down in the Cobleskill area, down in Schoharie and Middleburgh and all those flooded areas when we got hit with the tornado,” he said, pointing to the tornado’s path in Cranesville that’s visible from the substation adjacent to Lock 10.

“We went through that restoration and we were just mopping up from that and then all the rain from Tropical Storm Lee came up through and caused all this flooding, which caused erosion and caused the damage to our equipment,” McAfee said.

McAfee, a 25-year electrical worker with 20 years at National Grid, said he’s seen difficult days in the past including the ice storm that hit the North Country in the late 1990s.

“But the domino of the three, right in sequence, has been quite a challenge for us. Again, I can’t say enough about the employees,” McAfee said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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