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Sandbagging along the Saranac River below the Broadway bridge. Photos: Mark Kurtz.
Sandbagging along the Saranac River below the Broadway bridge. Photos: Mark Kurtz.

Flooding hits North Country as heavy rains continue

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Widespread and heavy flooding has struck much of the North Country in the last twenty-four hours, as torrential rains, winds and even a tornado warning in Hamilton County have caused widespread disruptions.

Emergency officials say dozens of highways and a number of bridges have been washed out across the region.

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican is reporting that Mineville-Witherbee fire chief Paul Tromblee was taken to Fletcher Allen hospital after a road collapsed under his vehicle.

Tromblee suffered a cervical injury but is described by the newspaper as in "fair" condition.

According to the National Weather Service, the Ausable River crested yesterday at more than three feet above flood stage.

Major flooding is still being reported at Rouses Point where Lake Champlain remains nearly two feet above flood stage.

Significant flooding and road damage has also been reported along the banks of the Schroon, the Raquette, and the Hudson rivers.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, some homes in the region were completely swamped by the rising water.

Brian Mann has been following the story in Saranac Lake, where emergency crews have been struggling to manage a dangerous glut of water pouring down from the Saranac chain of lakes.

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Main Street bridge with water above the bottom of the bridge.  The village office building is in the background.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Mid-afternoon, Michelle Minot is looking at her doorway, which is a dozen paces away across ankle deep riverwater.  "The water's pretty fricking high!" she says. 

A few strides away, the river gallops past, with curlers of water surging along the bank.  Next door, Roger Steinbruek is sandbagging around his flower shop with the help of friends, but the force of water is so great that it’s oozing out under the structure.

"That’s under the slab," he says.  "So it should be interesting.  They’re supposed to bring me another 20 sandbags."

Fights like this are going on along a half-dozen rivers in the North Country, from the Ausable to the Hudson. 

At a press conference last night in the Saranac Lake firehall, Franklin County emergency services director Rick Provost expressed frustration with the amount of water coming at them.

"We’ve opened the dam a total of 31 inches so far today with very little result on the upside of the dam toward Lower Saranac," he said.  "If anything we’re only maintaining.  We haven’t been able to lower the lake level like we would like to."

Provost said nineteen state and local agencies are working to manage the flows, trying to ease flooding to neighborhoods along the lakes, without flooding downstream communities.

The effort suffered a setback last night, when crews discovered that concrete and stone structures near the dam in the heart of Saranac Lake village were beginning to crumble under the pressure of the water.

"It’s a very dangerous situation and it’s not stable at this point," Provost said.  "If we have a dam issue above, we have an inch of rain or two inches of rain tonight, everything’s on the table."

Officials are keeping a close eye on one of the village’s major bridges, which sits just above the dam, because lake water has begun pushing against the structure.

"Right now the bridge is taking two or three inches of water sideways and it’s not designed for that.  It’s  also not meant to be lifted," Provost noted.

Just downstream from that bridge, carpenter Paul Ames was working Wednesday to move gear out of his shop.

"We’re looking right now at about a foot in places," he said.  "We just had to move all the tools out.  I was most concerned about my table saw and my heavy machinery."

Harrietstown officials also scrambled yesterday to protect documents in an area of town hall near the Saranac River that began to flood.  Larry Millier is Harrietstown supervisor.

"All our records are obviously in the back of the building, so we moved a good share of them to the auditorium," said Harrietstown supervisor Larry Miller.

Heavy soaking rain through the night set the stage for another difficult fight today.  Thunderstorms continue this morning in the Tri-Lakes region and the wet weather is expected to continue through Friday.

Larry Miller is town supervisor in Harrietstown.  He says water has been burbling into the lower level of town hall.

All our recorsds are obviously in the back of the town hall, so we moved a good share of them to the auditorium.

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