Press-Republican

January 31, 2013

High winds cause problems around region

By LOIS CLERMONT and KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

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PLATTSBURGH — High winds and mild temperatures combined Thursday to cause havoc around the North Country.

Roofs were blown off houses, several communities reported flooding, and tree limbs were down across the region, some taking power lines with them. Numerous roads were closed, included the northbound lane of the Northway, south of Exit 35, where a tractor-trailer truck overturned.

But no major injuries were reported.

HIGH WINDS

Fire department and highway crews were busy all day, answering non-stop calls for help. Wind damage and downed tree limbs were reported in Saranac, Lyon Mountain, Dannemora, Morrisonville, Altona, Champlain and Black Brook.

Heavy winds tore down trees along Route 9 between the towns of Lewis and Chesterfield, closing that road just past 9 a.m. Thursday.

Lewis Highway Superintendent Eldred Hutchins said some 15 trees were blown over, some across highways, others on top of power lines.

“We got all crews out right now cutting," he said as the sun broke through a morning cloud cover.

In Black Brook, the supervisor's secretary, Karen Nelson, said problems were reported all over the place.

"Trees are down in Fern Lake, on the Golf Course Road and on the old turnpike in Silver Lake. All I know is the fire department is in two or three different places where trees are over the lines. ... The Fire Department is directing cars around the trees on the Golf Course Road."

At 11:15 a.m., trees brought down power lines on Route 9 in North Hudson, which were removed by North Hudson Fire Department and National Grid.

CITY STREET CLOSURE

In the City of Plattsburgh, Cornelia Street was closed between Draper Avenue and Beekman Street before 8:30 a.m. because of concerns about construction materials blowing off the new School of Business being built at SUNY Plattsburgh.

City Police closed off that section of street, and a large crane hoisted workers up to secure the rattling plastic sheet that covers the structure.

The street had been reopened by 9:15 a.m. The same situation occurred last week during a day of high winds.

'GOOSEBUMPS'

Matt St. Clair lost power in his Rand Hill Road home at about 9:30 a.m. Some of St. Clair's neighbors were also without power Thursday morning, he said.

Shortly before 10 a.m., he was driving near 1500 Rand Hill Road when he saw a tree — held up by power lines — that was completely blocking the road.

"I was the first one that came upon it," he said. "I directed about eight cars underneath it."

He was hesitant to to direct cars, but drivers "were very persistent that they had to get where they needed to go."

"The power lines were carved into the tree," embedded in it, St. Clair said, and if they broke the danger would significantly increase.

He notified 911 and tried to help oncoming drivers. The first car to approach St. Clair was driven by an elderly woman who was taking her husband to the hospital. She told St. Clair her husband couldn't breathe.

Their car could fit underneath the tree, so St. Clair directed them under it.

Once a man arrived who said he was a former town employee, St. Clair decided to leave.

"I was very scared about driving under this tree," he said. "My antenna hit the tree, and I had goosebumps."

ROOF BLOWN OFF

At about 10:30 a.m., four employees were working in the front offices of Bailey Property Enterprise in Keeseville.

"We heard a huge gust of wind coming," said Trudell Ingbretson. "I thought the roof just collapsed."

Luckily, no one was injured, as the roof that blew off the building and into the back yard of the property was over a back office, Ingbretson said.

A beam broke a window, but that and the door leading to the back office have been enclosed with boards, she said.

"After that happened, I was kind of nervous because we kept getting huge wind gusts," Ingbretson said. "I thought for sure our roof was going to cave in on us."

ICE THREAT

An ice jam closed Route 9N early Thursday morning, some 10 miles west of AuSable Forks in the hamlet of Upper Jay.

There, the Ausable River jumped its banks near the Navajo Lodge in a section that was heavily damaged by Tropical Storm Irene nearly 18 months ago.

“There was an ice jam which caused 9N to flood, but it’s gone," Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said later in the morning.

"Fire Chief Mike Lincoln enacted an evacuation warning of some homes in AuSable Forks, but there was no flooding."

Lincoln had notified residents in low-lying areas that an ice jam was moving toward the hamlet. But the ice broke up and moved on.

“Everything’s gone," Lincoln said. "We are all out in the clear here. Our river is wide open now and below flood stage.”

Jay Town Supervisor Randy Douglas said they were lucky.

"Everything moved through. Ice on both branches (of Ausable River) went out. We had no flooding, just a temporary road closure," Douglas said.

State Route 9N between Upper Jay and Keene was temporarily closed due to water over the road, but it later reopened.

Douglas thanked everyone who helped out with response, cleanup and monitoring rivers.



MALONE FLOODING

The wind problem wasn't as severe Thursday in Franklin County.

Just three wind-related calls had been made to Franklin County Emergency Services dispatchers by midday, said Director Ricky Provost. Two calls about downed trees were in the Paul Smiths area and the other on Route 374 in Chateaugay, but neither was significant.

Flooding continued for an eighth day on Lower Park Street in Malone, and the ice jam forcing the Salmon River over its banks has gotten smaller.

However, the rushing water collapsed a garage door at 353 Lower Park and ripped the structure from its foundation, and the building is expected to wash away.

The water level went down about 6 inches overnight, “but it’s not anywhere near getting it off the street,” Provost said.

The jam, which at one time measured about 4,000 feet long, is now about half that size, Provost said.

“It’s caving in, but it’s nowhere near where we need to get the water to return to the channel of the river. We’re going to be dealing with his for a few more days.

“It’s going to go back down to freezing tonight. And I’ve looked at the 10-day forecast, and it’s not going to be above freezing, so we’re going to have this a little longer.”



FORECAST

The forecast shows temperatures dropping to below freezing throughout the region, which will stall the snow and ice melt.

But the National Weather Service in Burlington issued a flood watch Friday for much of northern New York, warning that ice jams from heavy rain and melting ice cover could cause localized flooding. 



— Staff Writers Denise Raymo, Lohr McKinstry and Felicia Krieg contributed to this report.