Niagara Gazette

July 21, 2013

Strong storm system wreaks havoc in the Niagara region

Strong storm system wreaks havoc in the Niagara region

By Timothy Chipp timothy.chipp@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mother Nature still packs quite a punch.

After a week of 90-degree, sunny days, with only limited cloud cover and spotty rain showers, the hammer fell on Niagara Falls, Lewiston, Cambria, Wheatfield and the Town of Niagara Friday night and early Saturday morning.

The western end of Niagara County experienced widespread power outages, downed tree limbs — or, in come cases, entire trees — broken or loose power lines and flooding as rain and wind pounded the area for at least eight hours. Houses were destroyed, cars were smashed and basements were disaster zones.

The storm did especially heavy damage to the Niagara Falls wastewater treatment plant, which flooded after Mayor Paul Dyster said a “water surge” overwhelmed the facility’s pumps.

“The pumps couldn’t fight the pressure and the facility flooded,” he said. “The pumps went completely underwater. As of (Saturday afternoon), there are pumps in place draining the plant. There are spots where you can see the water level decreasing. The facility was under 30 feet of water and it needed to be pumped out.”

Repair work at the plant will require some temporary help already on its way from Pittsburgh to get the facility working again, but Dyster said the plant is not currently operational. Though this is the case, he said the shut down won’t affect either drinking water or facilities like toilets or showers at all.

It will have an affect, though, on what water is released back into nature. Dyster said the plant is only able to treat incoming water at the “highest possible standards” before releasing it back into the Niagara River. It’s a situation he’s informed the state Department of Environmental Conservation about, a step he needed to take in declaring a partial state of emergency in the city.

Throughout the night, Dyster said he and several officials traveled the city to make sure safety was never compromised. But it was a close call in the College Avenue underpass near Highland Avenue.

Dyster and Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto were among several in the area Friday night attempting to divert traffic from the flooded underpass, which damaged several vehicles unlucky enough to become stranded in the waist-level water.

Dyster said area neighbors quickly came to the rescue of two individuals involved in the scene, including one who was stuck at the deepest portion of the flood holding on to stray branches for support.

A neighbor said he heard yelling despite the commotion and the rain, took his shirt off and dived into the water to pull the woman to safety, the mayor said. Another woman, whose vehicle was also stuck in the water, managed to free an elderly woman in a separate vehicle and guide her to safety.

Dyster said there were countless efforts by people like them acting beyond normal citizen behavior throughout the storm and its aftermath.

In recognizing their actions, DalPorto and Dyster have asked them to come forward to be recognized.

“If not for that gentleman hearing her yelling or the woman and that car, realizing they needed to take quick action, we could have had fatalities,” Dyster said. “I commend multiple instances of citizens stepping up and doing things that police officers normally would do. I even ended up trying to direct traffic. We were all out there doing what we could.”

Life Friday night in the Town of Niagara was no laughing matter, either. Several residents of Belden Center took to Facebook to voice their complaints about flooding caused by heavy rains in their neighborhood.

The town is in the process of acquiring grant money to fund storm water sewer repair work along Rhode Island Avenue in the community, but the raging storms paid no attention to potential projects. The result was a long list of flooded basements.

“(The) only thing I have to say about this is that the Town of Niagara needs to do something about the sewers/drainage in Belden Center,” Richard Gagnier said on the social networking site. “Everybody that has a basement here has flood damage and it is costing us all a lot of money.”

Highway Superintendent Bob Herman said areas along Cayuga Creek also took water damage as rains flashed across the area. He said eventually, the water overflowed the creek banks and caused the berm to wash away, leaving parts of both Lozina Drive and Roberts Road under water as well.

So his crews spent time setting up sandbags along the creek. It left him wondering just how much rain fell in the timeframe.

“I don’t know what the exact amount of rain was, but it was a strong storm,” he said. “It was definitely one of the strongest I’ve experienced in a long while; maybe I’ve never seen one that violent.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 4.04 inches of rain fell at the Niagara Falls International Airport during the storm’s peak hours between 8 p.m. Friday and 1 a.m. Saturday.

Despite that, some of the hardest hit areas in the storm were in Lewiston, though, where power outages continued throughout Saturday. The village itself saw much of its damage on both the north and south sides between the river and Fourth Street, where Department of Public Works Supervisor Bryan Meigs said damage similar to other towns took its toll on the historic village.

He said much of the damage his department could handle was cleaned up by noon Saturday, just in time for the sun to come out, as if the storm never happened. But with power out in about half the village, slowly being restored, the reminders were still there.

The Town of Lewiston wasn’t as heavily affected by the storm as it bulldozed its way through the area. The storm didn’t cause any major flooding damage throughout the town, but it did bring down some power lines and trees, according to Highway Department Superintendent Doug Janese.

Janese said residents are reminded to treat any downed power lines as if they’re live and are to exercise proper safety precautions when operating power tools like chainsaws to remove brush. He said his department will hit the streets beginning Monday to pick up any brush brought down by the storm left at the side of the street.

Speaking of power, Janese found himself in a jumpy situation last night he shared with the Gazette.

While patrolling for damage, he said he pulled up to a downed tree limb while on The Circle Drive. He said he got out to move the limb out of the road when a bolt of lightning flashed in his general vicinity.

“I had just moved it off the pavement when lightning struck a utility pole about a hundred feet away, which was more than close enough for me,” he said.

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.

ONLINE View or contribute photos of the storm to our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/Niagara.Gazette

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.