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Irene: Pumps slowly drain flooded neighborhood in Rotterdam Junction

Irene: Pumps slowly drain flooded neighborhood in Rotterdam Junction

Every minute, the eight gigantic pumps belch about 12,000 gallons of acrid floodwater from the basin

Every minute, the eight gigantic pumps belch about 12,000 gallons of acrid floodwater from the basin-like neighborhood of Isabella Street and Scrafford Lane over a pair of railroad tracks and into a section of the old Erie Canal.

The sound of their motors working in tandem is almost deafening. After nearly three days of pumping, the seven homes still remain submerged in several feet of the filthy, stagnant water.

“And we’re only halfway there,” boomed Randy Karl, a commissioner with the Rotterdam Junction Fire Department overseeing the operation.

Area contractors worked with town officials to move the equipment into place near the Pan Am Railways tracks. The National Guard and SI Group donated some of the thick hoses being used to carry the water away.

For Karl the operation can’t end quick enough. After all, his home is among those still underwater.

“Don’t know,” he said when asked about the condition of the homes. “We can’t get to them yet.”

The site was among several in the hamlet visited by state Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton, who toured flood-damaged areas in Schenectady County and Montgomery County on Thursday. Stratton’s abbreviated tour of the devastation was mostly by vehicle, but included one walking stop by the pumping operation.

Stratton drove by the badly damaged Lock 9 facility, which carries Route 103 across the Mohawk. With the bridge closed to all traffic, Route 5S represents the only way in or out of the hamlet.

The tour also included a stop at the CSX Railroad bridge construction site. Supervisor Frank Del Gallo said some emergency officials in the hamlet have blamed a pair of massive barge-mounted cranes for blocking the path of the rushing Mohawk, forcing it to cascade into Rotterdam Junction.

The flooding in the junction occurred so quickly that some of the more than 400 people evacuated didn’t even have chance to flee when the order was given to leave. They had to be rescued by boat.

Isabella Street resident Donna Wolbert was loading up a car to evacuate Monday morning when the water started rising at an alarming rate.

“We didn’t have any time,” she recalled. “The water was already coming through.”

Scrafford Lane resident Dan Hladik was alerted to the flood by a friend who is a firefighter during the pre-dawn hours on Monday. He wisely packed up with his pregnant wife and left the hamlet long before the water cascaded into his neighborhood.

Hladik was able to flee along Route 5S to his in-laws’ home in Scotia. When he returned later in the morning and before the official evacuation, water was already washing over the roadway.

“They waited way too long to blow the whistle,” he said Thursday. “People had minutes to get out of here.”

Isabella Street and Scrafford Lane were in bad shape even before the Mohawk flooded. Hladik’s yard was already flooded on Sunday evening as a result of water filling the old canal basin.

For years, the area near historic Lock 25 has created flooding issues for the neighborhood. Runoff fills the basin during severe storms and occasionally blasts out the old mule towpath, which is the only berm that protects the lower-lying residences.

“And that happened again,” said Hladik, whose property was badly flooded during a heavy rainstorm in 2008.

Others in the hamlet were questioning whether the Canal Corporation did enough to prevent the flooding. Deputy Supervisor Robert Godlewski said several residents have insisted the lock dams weren’t fully opened during the storm.

“Those people really believe the locks were closed,” he said.

But Stratton insists the authority did all it possibly could do to avoid flood damage. He said the amount of water surging into the Mohawk was more powerful than the June 2006 flood, which caused widespread damage in Montgomery County.

“We took thorough preventative measures in the days before the flood to take all our flow control devices out of the water,” he said.

Canal Hydrologist Howard Goebel said workers started drawing down the river level two days before the storm hit. He said locks 8 through 12 were opened completely early Sunday morning, and the rest of the canal locks were fully opened by 2 p.m.

“We knew it was going to be one of those record setters,” he said of the storm.

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