Tonawanda News

July 21, 2013

Storms rumble through region

By Eric DuVall
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A line of severe thunderstorms passed through Western New York early Saturday drenching the Tonawandas and knocking out power to thousands overnight.

North Tonawanda’s Wurlitzer Park area was hardest hit by flooding after rain overpowered a lift station on Nash Road, leaving sewer lines backed up for hours.

Compounding backed up sewer lines, electric outages due to numerous downed trees and branches left some homeowners without the juice to power sump pumps, Mayor Rob Ortt said.

“I know a lot of folks did get water in their basements from the backups,” Ortt said. “That’s obviously something we’re all going to be dealing with.”

North Tonawanda saw the heaviest rainfall in the Tonawandas with 4.3 inches coming down from about 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Hibbert said.

Readings across the city and town ranged from 2 inches to 2.3 inches.

The rain wasn’t the only problem, however. Heavy winds — a top gust of 66 mph was recorded at the airport in Niagara Falls — downed trees and power lines.

At the peak of the storm, Ortt said 2,500 people in the city were without power. All but a few hundred had their power restored by midmorning and National Grid said they expected to have service restored to all NT customers by Saturday evening.

At Canal Fest, a handful of tents went down during the storm and needed to be replaced, Fest President Larry Denef said. Thanks to the timing only a few hours were lost to the deluge and Saturday’s craft show and other events went on as scheduled.

Across Niagara County, about 17,000 people lost power at some point due to the storm. Across all of Western New York, 28,500 people lost service, the utility company said. Some in the hardest hit areas outside the Tonawandas could be without power through Sunday evening, according to a National Grid statement.

“This was a fast moving, but very severe storm that came with extremely high winds and caused extensive damage to our electric system,” said Ken Daly, National Grid president, New York state. “We remain in close contact with local emergency response teams and local officials as we move from damage assessment to restoration efforts today.”

The Rod Cross opened a storm shelter Saturday morning at North Tonawanda High School but no residents needed the service and by 4:30 p.m. it had closed.

In the City of Tonawanda, Mayor Ron Pilozzi said roads and storm sewers were mostly able to keep up with the rainfall. The largest concern was when the Tonawanda Towers building lost power.

Pilozzi said city officials contacted National Grid to ask they make restoration at the senior apartment complex a priority.

“That was our biggest concern,” Pilozzi said. “We talked to National Grid and let them know they were a priority and they were very helpful.”

Beyond that, Pilozzi said the city weather the storm with relative ease.

“We kind of lucked out on this one,” he said.

That wasn’t the case to the north, where Ortt said the city was “fighting a losing battle” in the early morning hours, trying to augment the city’s sewer pumps inundated with storm runoff.

“A lift station on Nash Road was actually under water,” Ortt said. “The pumps in the station were submerged fully. We had to bring in additional pumps to pump out the station.”

Public Works Superintendent Bradley Rowles said his crews were extremely busy early Saturday removing trees and clearing roadways.

A portion of Wheatfield Street near Division Street was closed because it is being repaved and the street level actually sat below the storm drains, leading to flooding in the area.

“When you think about not just the water in the lift station ... all the water in the lines underground, you have to be able to drain those,” Rowles said. “We had such a huge amount of water come into the system.”

He said it took about 12 hours after the rain stopped for the city’s sewer system to return to normal water flow levels.

Portions of Nash Road were blocked by down trees. Rowles said one property on Nash saw five trees downed in a row.

Rowles commended city DPW workers who labored quickly to get streets back open overnight to avoid morning traffic headaches.

“We had everything open within a matter of hours. In that time, we did have to move trees that blocked the roads,” he said. “It was an extremely busy time.”

The good news for area residents is the storm cleared the air of much of the thick humidity that had made a string of 90 degree days nearly unbearable.

The forecast for Sunday is looking far more pleasant, Hibbert said.

“Cooler and drier, high upper 70s,” he said. “And no chance for rain.”

Contact Managing Editor Eric DuVall at 693-1000, ext. 4112 or on Twitter @EricRDuVall. Jill Keppeler contributed reporting to this story.