Tonawanda News

June 29, 2013

Heavy rains pour down

Staff and wire reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Heavy downpours blanketed Western New York on Friday, causing significant flooding in several communities, including the city of Lockport where more than three inches of rain fell in a three-hour period prompting an early evening driving ban. 

While officials in the city of Niagara Falls reported only minor flooding issues, the day-long rain event had a crippling effect on other parts of the state and Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a disaster declaration for 15 counties hit hardest by the severe storms.

Much of the city of Lockport was submerged Friday evening. During the heaviest rains, the Erie Canal stretched across Market Street at Widewaters and water gushed down the escarpment. 

By 4 p.m., the Lockport Police reported 15 to 20 streets were flooded and 45 basements were underwater. Mayor Michael Tucker issued a driving ban in the city and barriers were put up on some streets. Mutual aid calls were put out to neighboring fire companies. 

“The phone is ringing off the hook,” said Lt. Brian Wentland, who was fielding calls at police headquarters. “A lot of streets are flooded. Extra officers are out for traffic patrol.”

Residents searched for ways to get home and many found houses flooded. Flooding was widespread and knee deep in parts of the city. There were reports of gushers and residents directing traffic.

The Lockport Library and YMCA, which planned to close early in deference to the LaBatt Concert Series, suffered damage at the lower levels on their East Avenues buildings.

While Niagara Falls got its share of rain, the city’s Department of Public Works Director Dave Kinney said local flooding problems were not as severe as those experienced by neighboring communities. 

Kinney said several blocked catch basins contributed to a high volume of standing water on College Avenue off Highland, forcing the closure of a section of the road for a brief period. Kinney said the basins were cleared and the water drained away, allowing for the road to be reopened in a matter of hours. 

“It was a fast rain,” Kinney said. “When you get so much so fast, if any of the catch basins are blocked up it causes problems.” 

Kinney said minor flooding issues were reported in a few other parts of the city, but his department was not aware of any major problems as of around 6 p.m. Friday. 

“I guess I’m kind of crossing my fingers and hoping we weathered the worst part of the storm today,” Kinney said.

The situation was far different in other parts of the state where dozens of homes in some communities were underwater. The Associated Press reported that Cuomo’s disaster declaration covered Broome, Chenango, Clinton, Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego, Tioga, Schoharie, St. Lawrence and Warren counties. Cuomo activated the New York State Office of Emergency Management (NYSOEM) to closely monitor the impacted areas and to assist counties with ongoing rescue and recovery efforts.

“The state is taking action to provide immediate assistance and support to counties in the Mohawk River Valley which are experiencing floods,”Cuomo said. “I will be closely monitoring the situation and my administration will continue to coordinate with first responders in all of the affected flooded areas. I urge New Yorkers in these areas to monitor news reports and follow directions from emergency personnel on the ground.”

New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES) Commissioner Jerome M. Hauer said, “With more rain in the forecast, there is a potential for more flooding in more areas in the region. We are asking people to stay alert, listen to emergency instructions and cooperate with local officials if needed.”

Weather forecasts in the Buffalo area called for spotty rain and possibly thunderstorms to continue today, with temperatures expected to be in the mid 70s.