Press-Republican

June 27, 2012

2011 flooding: Isolation brought bonding

Isolation pulled residents closer together in aid

By SUZANNE MOORE, News Editor
Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Six pumps sucked water nonstop from Alice Frederick’s basement and back room, but it seemed to come back in just as quickly.

“It was scary,” said the Deyo Road woman said.

But Jack and Marilyn Neverette, who were dealing with water problems of their own next door, helped fight the battle with her.

“Jack even stayed here a couple times at night, just in case the pumps stopped.”

SHARED DRIVEWAYS, MAILBOXES

Neighbors got closer during the two-plus months of high water in spring 2011. 

In the Cumberland Head community of Algonquin Park, many streets became impassable for weeks on end — to cars, anyhow. Some residents used paddle boats to get around, while others were able to cut through the back yards of neighbors to reach vehicles they had parked on dry pavement, sometimes in the driveways of others.

“We even arranged for the mailman to drop our mail at the farthest point he could come down the street at one of the neighbor’s mailboxes,” said resident Dale Matott.

They all had their own personal crises going on — Matott’s was 18 inches of water in his front yard and at least 3 in his family room — but the Algonquin Park people pitched in to help one another where they could.

With a steady flow of water coming into her home for a time, Christina Brault had four sump pumps going at once, and her neighbors kept an eye out to make sure they all kept working.

“Without someone offering to watch it, I would have had to stay home from work,” she said.

  MEALS TOGETHER

On Point au Fer in Champlain, several families pooled resources after the flooding limited their access to the outside world.

When Mary Zurlo cooked a meal, she’d make extra, “for more like a party,” said her husband, Clinton County Clerk John Zurlo. 

“There was a lot of inviting over and eating together.”

The Point au Fer bunch picked up groceries for one another to help limit trips through the water. 

The Champlain Knights of Columbus handed out gift baskets of flood necessities — boots, flashlights and other items that were much appreciated, John said.

He took on the job of delivering the Press-Republican every morning to stranded readers on the peninsula, not exactly a straightforward task. One scenario had him catching a ride to the corner of Route 9B with neighbor Jim Favreau and the high-clearance flatbed he borrowed from his job at Jefford’s Steel in Plattsburgh. The paper carrier would leave the bundle there, and Zurlo would finish the route.

“No tips,” he joked, “but I enjoyed it.”

FRONT-END LOADER

Favreau ferried Point au Fer folks to the main road many times — they’d ride on the flatbed to dry land, where cars waiting there would take them to Sunday Mass, work, grocery shopping.

“There were always people needing a ride,” John said.

Transportation got creative, as Town of Champlain Highway Superintendent Allen Racine put big plow trucks to work as taxis and even a front-end loader that carried passengers in its massive bucket. 

“He just couldn’t have been any more kind,” John said. “(For anything at all), “he said, call me on my cellphone.”

Jim Favreau’s brother Richard, a Town Council member who also lives on Point au Fer, applauded Racine’s effort as well.

“He was phenomenal.”

Driving through the deep water in any vehicle was hazardous, for railroad ties and other debris floated around and the current worked to undermine the pavement.

Without the white lines marking the road edges, Richard said, it would have been impossible, for it was otherwise too difficult to make out where the road ended and soft shoulder began.

LASTING FRIENDSHIP

One night, water found a way into Richard’s basement.

“We had six people and my brother, as well, who stayed until 11 o’clock,” when the crisis ended, he said.

The Point au Fer clan helped one another stack sandbags, taking the empties to the Town of Chazy Highway Department, where workers had a machine that filled them.

The homes in that particular cut-off community didn’t experience the kind of inundation seen on Point au Fer’s south side and other places along the lake, and the residents were grateful for that. 

A year later, ties are stronger in the neighborhood, including the friendship between John and Richard.

“We’re very close now,” John said. 

In fact, he added, “he was here this morning, borrowed some gas for the lawnmower.”

‘NEVER LIKE THIS’

Frederick, 67, has an old photo showing water surrounding the place in 1969, when it was still a family camp. But she doesn’t think that flood lingered the way the 2011 inundation did.

For as long as she remembers, a single sump pump in the basement took care of any seepage without working hard at all, she said.

“It was never, never like this,” she said, remembering how she had to carry her cockapoo, Buddy, down the flooded road so he’d have a dry place to do his business.

It was a time of high stress, little sleep, anxiety and uncertainty.

Day by day, Frederick didn’t know whether the water would win, and she’d have to seek refuge elsewhere.

There was one thing she could count on, though. If the time had come to get out, she said, whether she wanted to or not, her neighbors “would have dragged me with them.”

— Contributing Writer Shawn Ryan added to this report.