By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — General post-storm consensus in the Niagara Falls area: Not as bad as it could have been.
Tuesday morning, just hours after a super storm that ravaged New York City, New Jersey and other parts of the Eastern seaboard rolled into Niagara County, officials in and around the Falls reported some downed trees and pockets of power loss, but otherwise no serious problems.
"I think we dodged a bullet on this," Mayor Paul Dyster said early Tuesday.
Lake Ontario shoreline communities like the Town of Wilson - which braced for the brunt of the storm in the western end of the county - emerged relatively unscathed.
"We survived the storm extremely well," said Joe Jastrzemski, Wilson supervisor.
Jastrzemski and other officials in Wilson prepared Monday morning for what forecasters predicted would be a significant weather event involving winds gusting up to 60 mph and waves on the lake topping 10 feet. Officials in both the village and the town encouraged residents, especially those living on the lakeshore, to take all necessary precautions and, in some areas, seek shelter elsewhere during the storm.
Jastrzemski said officials wanted to air on the side of caution as the storm approached. He thanked residents for their patience and emergency crews for their diligence.
"We planned for the worst and were hoping for the best and we feel very fortunate," he said.
While East Coast communities like New York City were rocked by the full force of Hurricane Sandy, Niagara County and the rest of Western New York dealt only with the outer reaches of the storm which spanned nearly 1,000 miles at its peak on Monday. In the Falls area Monday evening and into Tuesday morning, the rain was heavy at times and the wind gusted into the 40-mph range, but weather conditions were not as bad as some had feared.
As a result, the damage to trees and power lines was less extensive as well.
"Everything's well in hand," Niagara Falls Department of Public Works Director David Kinney reported just after 9 a.m. Tuesday. "Last night was a relatively good night, given everything that was going on."
Kinney said his department fielded just seven calls from residents reporting downed trees or significant tree limb damage. Kinney said all seven were taken care of relatively quickly and city forestry crew workers were finished with the bulk of the work by 11 p.m.
"There was no major tree damage," Kinney said. "We didn't have a full tree down, only two partials."
Jastrzemski said Wilson crews dealt with several downed trees and fallen tree limbs and branches, but no major damage was reported in the town. He said about 80 or so residents living on the eastern end of the lake experienced a power outage and crews were working to restore power to those homes Tuesday.
"We had a few trees go down which were cut up and taken away," Jastrzemski said. "Wilson Fire Co. No. 1 was on call all evening, but nobody had to come in and use the facility."
Jastrzemski said it appeared as though homes along the lakeshore faired well in general. He said town and fire company officials would perform additional inspections throughout the day Tuesday.
"The lake level was low and that was a blessing for us," Jastrzemski said.
Steve Brady, a spokesman for National Grid, confirmed that less than 80 residents in Wilson were still without power as of just after 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Brady said there were pockets of outages across Niagara County, including about 30 in the Town of Wheatfield. He said the largest outage involved 643 residents living near the Fashion Outlets mall in the Town of Niagara and on Buffalo Avenue and near Cayuga Island in the Falls. Brady said crews were dealing with a lot of tree damage in those areas but expected to have service restored across Niagara County by Wednesday at the latest.
"We expect to have — barring anything out of the ordinary — all of them repaired today," Brady said.
A flood watch for the Buffalo and Niagara Falls area remained in place until noon Tuesday, a day that forecasters said would include rain, temperatures in the lower 50s and 15 to 25 mph winds, with gusts up to 35 mph.
Weather reports call for rain in the evening and light rain overnight, with temperatures in the lower 40s and winds between 10 and 15 mph. Wednesday's forecast calls for rain and occasional drizzle in the morning, highs in the upper 40s and light winds.
Residents who want to report downed trees or other weather-related issues in the city of Niagara Falls are encouraged to call the DPW department at 286-4940. Town of Wilson residents with weather-related concerns are asked to contact the Town of Wilson highway department at 751-6691.
Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.