Upstate flooding damages homes, closes roads

HERKIMER, N.Y. (AP) – Severe flooding caused by the spring and early summer’s persistent rains damaged houses, closed roads and forced people to flee their homes in the Mohawk Valley on Friday.

Heavy rains Thursday and into early Friday caused the Mohawk River to overflow its banks where it traverses the southern end of Herkimer County, located 60 miles east of Syracuse. At Little Falls, the river reached more than 3 feet above flood stage late Friday morning before receding, the National Weather Service said.

Many of the rivers and streams that spilled their banks were slowly receding Friday night. Scattered storms moving across the state weren’t expected to raise water levels significantly. The heaviest rain was expected to fall in the Hudson Valley.

Sections of the New York State Thruway, the state’s main east-west highway, were surrounded by flooding Friday though police said it remained open in both directions. The flooding also forced state officials to hold off on reopening a section of the Erie Canal that had been closed by previous high water. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there was damage along a 100-mile stretch of the canal.

“We don’t believe there’s been any loss of life so far, but it is a dangerous situation,” said Cuomo, who declared a state of emergency in several upstate counties.

Greg Erhardt lives with his 86-year-old father near the river in Fort Plain and said the flooding was the worst they had seen.

“His cellar filled right up,” said Erhardt, 64. “Upstairs is livable, but we don’t know yet about the electric. It’s a mess. … It’s unbelievable. Fort Plain really got it this time.”

About 100 people were staying in an emergency shelter in Fort Plain, police said.

The heavy rains also pushed streams over their banks in the Adirondacks and caused flooding as far south as Chenango County, north of Binghamton. In northern New York, there were reports of several road closures in Essex County as the East Branch of the AuSable River spilled over.

Flooded streets were also reported in the city of Oneida in nearby Madison County, while residents in Johnsburg in the eastern Adirondacks were being asked to stay off the roads until flooding subsided.

Fred Cleveland lives a stone’s throw from the river in Fort Plain with his fiancee, their four children and his fiancee’s mother.

“We lost everything in the apartment. I lost my van,” he said. “When I walked out to the van, the mud was almost up to my knees.”

Cleveland just moved back to the area two weeks ago. He said they got the kids and a “little bit of clothes” out of the apartment but that was all.

Fort Plain police Chief Robert Thomas said Friday night he had requested a team of specially trained rescue workers who use dogs to help track down missing residents from two streets that were heavily damaged by the flash flooding. Thomas did not say how many residents were missing.

Fire officials said there was 2 to 3 feet of water on some streets in the village of Herkimer and emergency crews had rescued at least three people from their flooded homes.

Motorists traveling on a stretch of the Thruway were advised to reduce their speed and be prepared to stop because of flooding.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.