Press-Republican

May 4, 2011

Flooding states of emergency extended

County hopes continued struggle will lead to state aid

JOE LoTEMPLIO, and SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican, News Editor

PLATTSBURGH — Harvey Blanchard had no choice but to flee the flood.

"The water was up to my door, and I have no power," he said. "I had to get out."

He found refuge at an American Red Cross shelter at the Crete Memorial Civic Center.

"Thank God for this place," said Blanchard, 60, who has called Lakeside Apartments on Margaret Street home for the past 15 years. "These people are the best. I eat better here than I do at home."

EMERGENCIES CONTINUE

Heavy rains Tuesday raised water levels again.

City of Plattsburgh Mayor Donald Kasprzak extended the city's State of Emergency for five days, and Clinton County also renewed its declaration.

States of emergency set to expire were given new life in the Village of Keeseville and the towns of Champlain and Chazy.

Rouses Point is expected to renew its emergency status upon expiration May 7, according to Clinton County Office of Emergency Services.

"Let's all hope for an extended reprieve in the weather conditions in the near future," Kasprzak said.

Effort is ongoing to assess damages that can be submitted to New York state in hopes of having a state disaster declaration made, "and to support a request that has been placed to the State OEM (Office of Emergency Management) for individual assistance," according to a news release.

ONLY A BACKPACK

Blanchard was one of many residents of four complexes on North Margaret Street deemed uninhabitable by inundation, and power was cut off to 101 units in all.

Most moved in with family and friends, but some went to the temporary emergency shelter set up at the Crete.

Blanchard has spent his nights since last Saturday sleeping on a cot there.

"I slept pretty good last night. It's not too bad," he said.

Tuesday, he went to the Salvation Army to get some extra clothes, as he could not get to his apartment for supplies.

Jacob Flickner, 35, had to leave his Lakeside apartment Saturday with nothing but a backpack with some clothes in it.

"There's 4 inches of water in my apartment," he said.

'DISASTER JUNKIE'

Edna Quesnel, a volunteer from Ticonderoga, helped organize the shelter.

For the past 15 years, the self-described "disaster junkie" has been helping at crises across the country.

She spent nine weeks in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and worked at Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She has also been to California, helping out during wildfires there.

"What you have here, is a mud puddle compared to Katrina where we had 3,500 people in a shelter," she said.

"But every disaster is real for the people facing it, and people here are not used to this, and it affects everyone differently."

REACHING OUT

Jeannie Roberts of the American Red Cross in Plattsburgh said the shelter would be up and running as long as there was a need. In addition to volunteers, nurses and mental-health workers were available.

Food and supplies were donated by area stores and restaurants.

The Crete was equipped to house up to 200 people if necessary. As of Tuesday, no more than eight were using the shelter at any one time.

"A lot of people are helping neighbors, and I think we've all learned over the years how to deal with things like this. It is always remarkable to see people still reaching out to each other," she said.

STILL A MESS

While inside the shelter it was warm and dry, outside was a mess Tuesday.

North Margaret Street had been closed Monday as south winds pushed more of Lake Champlain ashore. Reopened Tuesday morning, traffic moved slowly in both directions, keeping to the center lanes — rows of orange cones lined both outer lanes; sand and debris in many places showed how high the water had come.

Police tape surrounded the Willow Beach townhouses and Lakeside Apartments. Water still filled the parking lots at Northway Apartments and McDonald's. The entrance to Latour Avenue and parking lots and lawns on that road remained awash.

North Country Chamber of Commerce was evacuated Monday. On Tuesday, walls of sandbags around the property seemed intended to keep water in, for a placid pond shimmered there; the flood had subsided outside the barriers.

McSweeney's Red Hots restaurant was also closed, as water covered the parking lot.

SANDBAG MACHINE

The city set up a command post on North Margaret Street to handle all communications associated with the emergency.

"Clinton County Emergency Services and the city workforce have done an outstanding job dealing with these challenges, and as long as lake levels affect our residents and businesses, we will continue to do the best we can," Kasprzak said.

Elsewhere along the lake there were evacuations Monday, too. Residents left their homes on Eagle Acres and LaPointe roads in Chazy and Point au Fer in the Town of Champlain.

Rouses Point continued to see flood issues; a sign was erected Tuesday that warned motorists on Lake Street to watch for debris on the road.

Not much had changed in Chazy by about 5 p.m. Tuesday, said Acting Highway Superintendent Tim Lamica.

"The water dropped about 3 inches overnight, but it's coming right back up." But the town did invent a new method for filling sandbags. Highway workers took the spinner mechanism off one of its snowplows, effectively creating a sandbag-filling machine.

The town was able to fill and hand out about 1,000 sandbags Tuesday to residents.

The Highway Department will continue filling bags as needed. Chazy residents are asked to bring their own supply to the Highway Garage on Miner Farm Road.

— Contributing Writer Bob Bennett added to this report.