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Keeseville highway supervisor Frank Soucy and Gary Burke monitor the rising Ausable (Photos:  Brian Mann)
Keeseville highway supervisor Frank Soucy and Gary Burke monitor the rising Ausable (Photos: Brian Mann)

As Ausable River surges, families and emergency crews scramble

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Over the last seventy-two hours, the Ausable River has been transformed from a popular trout stream into a raging torrent.

High water and damaged highways have forced road closures from Lake Placid through Keene Valley all the way down through Jay and Ausable Forks.

Brian Mann was in Keeseville yesterday afternoon as emergency crews and volunteers braced for another big blast of water triggered by heavy rains.

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A home in Keeseville is encircled by the river

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Mid-day on Thursday, Keeseville village highway supervisor Frank Soucy sits in his truck on a rise of land just above the Ausable River.  A phone call comes in with bad news.  Another big bubble of rainwater is heading his way.

"The rough water just hit Ausable Forks right now.  In another hour, it's going to be two feet higher than it was yesterday," he said.

Soucy and his co-worker, Gary Burke, have been patrolling, handing out sandbags, and monitoring the town's wastewater treatments system.  He points out that the Ausable River is piled up twenty to thirty feet high against historic brick buildings that stand along the bank.

They say they've never seen anything like this.

"Never close to that.  It's fast right now, and high," Soucy said.

"It's getting stronger and stronger right now," Burke agreed.

A half-mile away, John Booth is moving pumps and setting up sandbag stations at the Rippling River Inn where he works.  He says the latest news isn't welcome at all.

"They told me it's getting higher in Ausable and in about an hour and a half it'll get higher down here.  It looks like it's coming up again."

Booth has been fighting this river since Wednesday.  "It was right up to those barriers, and it was going in that basemenet there.  It got to be one inch below my knee," he said.

Even people who aren't directly affected by the Ausable seem dazed by their river's transformation.  Bonnie DeGolyer works at Adirondack Architectural Heritage in Keeseville and looks down on the river from her office window.

"A wild river and it's swirling debris.  We've seen huge trees come down.  We've seen whole picnic tables, [home] siding, doors."

Further downstream, the Ausable settles a bit but it also widens, swallowing timberland and fields.  At one point the river has jumped its bank by a half mile in both directions. 

"Usually the river is over there," says Cathy Blais from Willsboro.

"I have fished right here before and right there there's usually no water and right now it looks like that's the river.  Unbelievable."

With the weather forecast improving, these rivers will begin to come down.  But Gary Burke with the Keeseville Highway Department says there's still a lot of work ahead, keeping homes safe and beginning the clean-up.

"We have to stay now and hope like hell [the river] doesn't go over the sandbags," he said.

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