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River flows through AuSable Forks

August 30, 2011
By NATHAN BROWN - Staff Writer (nbrown@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

AuSABLE FORKS - The signs of Sunday's flooding, possibly the worst in the town of Jay's history, were everywhere Monday.

On Sheldrake Road, a number of the houses across the street from the AuSable River showed obvious signs of damage, and homeowners had moved their furniture and possessions from inside onto their front lawns. A few houses on nearby Broad Lane also had bags of garbage in front of them, and possessions on lawns and porches.

Many roads that had been covered with water Sunday were still covered with dried mud. The guard rails on the sides of state Route 9N, headed toward Clintonville, were jammed with broken branches.

Article Photos

The East and West branches of the AuSable River merge in downtown AuSable Forks, where mud from Sunday flooding can be seen Monday from an Adirondack Flying Service plane.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

On streets throughout the hamlet, there were hoses sticking out of homes, draining water from basements into the gutters. Fire and rescue crews from as far away as Helena, Potsdam, Gouverneur and Cranberry Lake were on scene. Crews of inmates from Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, distinctive in their bright orange hard hats and neon yellow vests over dark green uniforms, went around with shovels, cleaning off street after street.

Between the towns of Jay and Black Brook, about 75 homes were probably affected by the flooding, said town Supervisor Randy Douglas. Broad Lane, Burt Street, Intervale Avenue, and some homes on state Route 9N between AuSable Forks and Jay and also between AuSable Forks and Clintonville had to be evacuated. The town and Red Cross are running a shelter at the town Community Center, where a number of people have been staying.

Some of the homes were surrounded by water, Douglas said, and people had to be taken out by swift boat, or with bucket loaders by highway crews.

"There were some scary rescues," Douglas said.

One such rescue was around 5 p.m. Sunday, when Jay Department of Public Works Director Chris Garrow received a call about five people trapped in a van by flooding near the intersection of Stickney Bridge Road and state Route 9N. Garrow went there with two highway workers and got the occupants out.

"It was waist-deep," Garrow said. "The water was running right into the car."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo flew over AuSable Forks Monday to assess the damage, and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, plans to tour the area with Douglas today. State Agriculture Commissioner Darryl Aubertine also visited Monday, seeing Jay in the morning and then continuing on to Keene and North Elba.

There are no estimates yet on the value of damage, but it is likely in the millions of dollars countywide, said Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish. The worst damage was in the towns of Keene, Moriah and Jay, he said. Power outages are still widespread, the county government center is still closed today, and all scheduled court proceedings are canceled.

The East Branch of the AuSable River started to flood around 4 p.m. Sunday. It was almost 22 feet above flood stage at its peak Sunday night, running knee-deep down Main Street and pounding through the windows of the historic Jay Covered Bridge, almost taking it out. The river receded Monday, and the flood warning had been lifted by Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Burlington, Vt.

Sunday's flooding is the most severe of several to hit the town of Jay this year. The first was in March, when a series of ice jams led the AuSable to flood the basements of about 12 homes. Flooding in late April brought further destruction, and there were also flash floods at the end of May. Some of the same houses have been hit several times, Douglas said.

As a result of April's floods, the federal government did agree to help municipalities repair infrastructure damage, and to a limited loan program for affected farmers and some small businesses, but it denied this area's application to take part in the Individual Assistance program to help storm-damaged business and homeowners.

Douglas said he expects state and federal help this time, not only to rebuild infrastructure but to help flood-damaged homeowners.

"There's no way they can't do it," Douglas said. "The devastation is far too much."

The town has been actively passing out federal damage assessment forms, said Susan Richards, clerk to the town supervisor. Federal decisions on whether to give aid are based on how much damage is reported.

"We want to get the word out there," Richards said. "It's very, very important we record who had damage and (to) fill the form out."

Power was still out this morning for 227 customers in Jay and 111 in Black Brook, according to the New York State Electric and Gas website. Douglas said NYSEG crews are still checking for downed live wires and that it would likely be a couple of days before they were able to restore power. Douglas advised people who are out of power to find a place to stay in the meantime.

The sewer system in AuSable Forks, both in the parts in Jay and in Black Brook, was working Monday, but the water was not, due to water main breaks and malfunctions at the pumping station. Bottled water was being delivered to the town hall, and people were walking down AuSable Forks' main streets Monday afternoon carrying bottles and gallon jugs. A boil-water order will be in effect for AuSable Forks once the system is repaired, either until Sept. 1 or until further notice that it has been lifted.

 
 

 

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