Heavy rains washed away campground guests, vehicles and possibly the livelihood of some Ellenburg and Altona residents early Wednesday.
Surging waters from the north branch of the Chazy River crashed in on the Ranch Side Park Camp Ground, owned by Clinton County Legislator Sam Trombley, at about 5 a.m., forcing the evacuation of 125 campsites there and at nearby Blue Haven campground.
CLINGING TO vehicle
Clinton County fire and Emergency Services teams helped five to six people who were caught in the flash flood to safety.
State Police sent divers and an air boat to the area to aid in the rescues, which kept crews busy throughout the day.
One woman, one young man and two girls were clinging to the side of a vehicle in the flooded Ranch Side Camp Ground.
"They were standing on the ground behind it and then were getting up onto the side of the vehicle, which was blocking the current," said Ellenburg Depot Assistant Fire Chief Eric LaValley.
LaValley was one of several firefighters on the south side of the Chazy River bank attempting to heave a rope across the water, which LaValley said appeared to be flowing from a narrow portion of the river into a man-made water body in the campground.
"The current was getting swift enough that the vehicle was starting to move," he said.
LaValley saw the trapped people lunging at the rope each time it was tossed out, and he began walking down the bank in anticipation of one of them getting caught in the current.
"I sensed something could happen because they were so anxious to get out of there, jumping at the rope."
LaValley watched the two girls catch the rope and tie themselves to it. The older woman, believed to be the mother of the two girls, and the young man simply grabbed onto the rope.
"I think she thought she could just hang on to the rope, but that wasn't the case, and she ended up coming down the river.
"I ran down the bank, jumped in and grabbed onto her. She got on my back, and we swam to shore.
"It was getting pretty hairy out there when I got to her, that's for sure."
LaValley was exhausted after the rescue but assisted with cleanup efforts the rest of the day.
"I had to sit down for a while because I was pretty weak, pretty whooped. But I just continued on, and the EMTs began to check her out. It was quite a morning."
The woman, who is from Canada, reportedly suffered bruises from the battering she took as she was pressed by the raging water but was otherwise unhurt.
VEHICLES WASHED AWAY
Guests at the Northern Adirondack Comfort Motel in Ellenburg were stranded in their rooms or on a small balcony as waters rose up quickly and flooded basements there and at numerous homes on Brandy Brook and Cashman roads.
The raging river also picked up a Ford Bronco and an all-terrain vehicle and carried them away, as a 30-by-10-foot section of parking lot at LaBarre's Store and Deli at the corner of Route 11 and Military Turnpike in Ellenburg gave way.
The top half of a Hyundai Elantra was peeking out from under the floodwaters as it sat in the parking lot of the store. The water at its high point had covered the license plate, witnesses said.
Emergency crews and volunteer firefighters rushed to the area, where they remained Wednesday afternoon, sandbagging properties and checking on area homeowners.
"It was really bad," said Saranac Fire Chief Don Uhler, who, along with about eight others in the Saranac Technical Rescue Team, aided with rescue efforts.
"There easily could have been fatalities," he said, "but everyone, especially the Ellenburg (volunteers), did a tremendous job, and luckily no one was really hurt too bad.
"It was pretty wild, though, and quite impressive as far as the amount of water."
The intersection of Route 11 and Military Turnpike was closed until about 11 a.m. as State Police officers rerouted traffic around the flooded area.
Several State Department of Transportation crews and vehicles were there to check on the Turnpike bridge, as debris and flood waters churned underneath.
A section of decking from the Comfort Motel broke off and became lodged in a footbridge several hundred yards to the east behind LaBarre's property, which also houses a liquor store.
National Weather Service officials in Burlington did not have an exact rainfall measurement from Tuesday night into Wednesday, but heavy rains from Monday night contributed to the destruction that occurred here overnight, said meteorologist John Goff.
The earlier rain weakened shores, and the heavy downpour overnight caused the already high creeks and streams to overflow their banks and gush across downhill to the lowlands, he said.
The flooding caused temporary road closures on portions of Route 11 and the Brandy Brook, Plank, Forest and Alder Bend roads, State Police said midday Wednesday as crews worked to manage the destruction.
State roads were opened up to traffic later in the afternoon, but some Clinton County roads remained closed to traffic because they were under water.
The rain from the higher elevations roared into Ellenburg at about 5 a.m., according to emergency-services officials.
That was about the same time Mike and Sue Curry, owners of LaBarre's store, were awakened.
They live across the highway on the east side of the Turnpike bridge and can see their store from there.
One of their employees was calling.
"She said her basement was flooded, and she lives up over there," Mike said, pointing to the southwest.
"We came out and found this," he said, spreading his hands in front of him to indicate the flood waters burying the store parking lot.
This is the second time the Currys have had such severe flooding at the store.
The last time was in 1996.
"We had a flooded basement then, too. And you know what the worst part was? It's the mud and leaves. It was 3 feet thick in the cellar," he said.
"If we had a fire, a fire you can clean up. But this?" Mike said, shaking his head.
He said the family does not have flood insurance because the property is not in a designated flood plain.
STORAGE SHED PUSHED
In front of him, as the water rushed by, the store's ice machine was tipped nearly on its back and wedged against a small outbuilding that crookedly abutted the footbridge railing.
Seen through the outbuilding's broken door and sitting straight and undamaged inside was a motorcycle belonging to Ben Malark, who, with his wife, Angela, were tenants in the duplex next door to the store.
"That was in the back yard," Ben's father, David Malark, said of the small, wooden outbuilding.
It slowly floated from there across the parking lot and ended up over here."
He pointed to a half-submerged snowmobile and said the ATV that washed away had been stored in a garage on the other side of the store. But the water forced the door open and carried the vehicle off.
Neither it nor the Bronco had been found as of mid-morning.
Sue Curry said the truck had sentimental value.
"I lost both my parents this year, and the truck was Dad's. It was a 1985, and we just used it around for plowing because it was Dad's.
"But it was washed away by the river, and we don't know where it is," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
'I WANT A DRINK'
Several friends and neighbors came to see the damage for themselves and talk with the Currys and her brother, Greg LaBarre, who operates the liquor store, which was also damaged.
"People have been offering to help clean up, and they want us to stay open, but I don't know," Sue said.
She sipped her coffee and stared at the flooded property, which had been in her family since the 1940s.
"We're getting older, and we were 13 years younger in '96," she said with a little chuckle.
She, Mike and their gathered friends shared a light moment a few minutes later when Sue told her brother she wanted to get inside his liquor store.
"I don't even drink, but I want to have a drink today," she said, laughing.
Franklin County Highway Department crews drove 600 pre-filled sandbags to Altona, where the dam there is being monitored for erosion problems, Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost said.
He had the bags ready in case of flooding in Franklin County, but gave them to Clinton County because of the speed and depth of the rising water and the time it would have taken Clinton County to fill sandbags from scratch.
Provost said eight volunteers from his water-rescue team were at the site from early morning until 2 p.m. and had gone out on two rescues while Clinton County teams were tied up.
The Clinton County Health Department is warning that flash flooding can cause well water to become contaminated with waterborne germs that can cause serious illness to humans and pets.
They urge well owners to check their systems for damage and to boil their water before use if they think it may be contaminated.
If you believe your well is contaminated by petroleum or other chemicals, call the Health Department at 565-4870 or the Department of Environmental Conservation at 1 (800) 457-7362.
E-mail Denise A. Raymo at: email@example.com