Saugerties was ready for Sandy’s worst

Sun comes up on a flooded Lighthouse Drive (photo by Robert Ford)

The smell of motorboat fuel, a mixture of gas and oil, hung heavy over the Esopus Creek near the Hudson as residents of the roads that front the waterway returned home early Tuesday morning to find the area devastated by floodwaters that swept through the low-lying areas late Monday night.

“It’s total devastation,” said one Lighthouse Drive homeowner. “Don’t light a match.”

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No one was sure where the fuel leaked from, but a light sheen of the stuff coated the grass yards of Lighthouse Drive, Ferry Street, and Dock Street residences as well as the surface of Esopus Creek.

It will be up to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine where the spill originated, and to determine if a cleanup is needed or if it will dissipate on its own. Residents were more concerned about the water that flooded their homes and basements.

Andrea and Steven Livermore Snelten returned home to find eight feet of water in their basement. “This is the worst it’s ever been,” Andrea said; this from a woman who, during the spring snowmelt, parks her car on high ground because of the high water and wears waders to walk to and from her car.

“We left at 6 p.m.,” the couple said, “after hearing that the water was going to be one to two feet higher than during Irene.”

They were lucky; many of their Lighthouse Drive neighbors were evacuated from their homes, leaving in canoes later that night.

A confluence of factors came together to force nearly all residents to flee their homes, except those few who chose to ride the storm out: a higher than normal high tide caused by a full moon, and a storm surge that sent a four-foot wall of water streaming up the Esopus Creek. Because the Hudson is an estuary, it is subject to rising and falling tides, and combined with a surge of water pushed up the river from the ocean by Hurricane Sandy, residents along the creek never stood a chance of holding back the water.

As creek waters rose, members of the Saugerties Fire Department went door-to-door urging residents to leave their homes. When it became apparent that the water was too deep to wade through (most of them, veterans of many-a-storm, had parked their cars on higher ground), canoes were needed to bring them to safety.

Supervisor Kelly Myers said devastation along the Esopus might have been much worse if the Department of Environmental Protection had not stopped releasing water from the Ashokan Reservoir the previous day.

A few of those evacuated from their homes made their way to the Senior Center, where officials set up a shelter. Two families from the Glasco section of town also came to the shelter after floodwaters from the Hudson River forced them from their homes.

One Woodstock resident was also housed at the shelter.

Unlike the neighboring town of Woodstock, which was hit by massive power outages, Central Hudson reports only a few homes without electricity in Saugerties, and most of them are located along the Woodstock border.

Diaz ambulance crews report that they did not handle any storm-related calls. Firefighters spent Tuesday pumping out basements.

Myers and village Mayor William Murphy said firefighters did a “terrific job” in getting residents quickly and safely from their homes during the height of the storm.

 

Inside the command center

They’re your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, and your bosses. They’re the ones that answer the calls when your home is on fire or a loved one is injured, and their actions before Hurricane Sandy ensured that when calls for help were received during the height of the storm, they were answered quickly and effectively.

Planning for Hurricane Sandy began after the cleanup from Tropical Storm Irene. Over the course of the last year, emergency service personnel began to practice the lessons learned from that storm, so that things would run more smoothly and effectively when the next one hit.

Formal planning for Sandy began Saturday morning in a meeting with town and village officials, the town and village’s various fire departments, a Diaz ambulance squad and the police.

Led by town Supervisor Kelly Myers, village Mayor William Murphy, and police chief Joseph Sinagra, discussions centered on what weather forecasters and state and county emergency management officials were saying might happen when the storm hit.

Emergency service personnel also determined what radio frequencies would be used so that all agencies would be able to communicate with each other.

Myers said flooding would probably be the biggest problem because of the storm surge expected from the confluence of the full moon, a high tide, and water being pushed up the Hudson River from the Atlantic Ocean and then up the Esopus Creek.

During the day, information sheets were prepared by Myers to be distributed to fire departments and Diaz at a meeting early Sunday morning, that would then be delivered to every residence in the town and village by firefighters and crews from Diaz going door-to-door, all in an effort to warn residents about the danger posed by the storm and what services, if needed, would be available, including where to get fresh water during the aftermath of the storm, and information about the location of a shelter to be set up at the Senior Center.

An Emergency Operations Center was set up at the police station, and a meeting was held Sunday morning to distribute the flyers, and go over final plans.

Sinagra said that extra dispatchers would be on duty during the storm to handle the added number of calls expected from residents. Police also put on eight-man shifts to deal with increased calls, and Diaz had extra crews standing by at its building. Each firehouse was staffed, as well.

Monday afternoon, Central Hudson held a conference call for counties, towns and villages informing them of its plans on how it would deal with the storm. Gas and power company officials said that crews would be brought in from Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin and Alaska to deal with expected power outages.

They were predicting that high winds would do the most damage, knocking down trees and power lines. This proved true for communities south of Saugerties and west in Woodstock. In Saugerties, power outages were limited, and flooding caused the most damage.

Sandy hit Saugerties in the late afternoon on Monday. Wind and rain was light initially, then picked up in intensity as the day progressed. The real problems hit later that evening when the Hudson River hit high tide and began to push water up the Esopus Creek.

Throughout the evening, an eye was kept on the Hudson River for those who live along it and on the Esopus. Some residents began to take precautions early, and went to stay with friends or family not affected by the projected flood area, or just parked their cars on higher ground so they would not float out into the creek or the river.

At about 11 p.m. the waters began to rise more quickly and the Glasco Fire Department went into low-lying areas along the river and urged residents to evacuate, as did the village fire department for residents along the Esopus and Malden, for those who live along the river in that section of the town.

Unlike Irene, when many residents in those low-lying areas chose to ride out the storm, residents heeded the call for evacuation by the fire departments.

“It was just amazing how everything came together,” Myers said late Monday night. “All of our emergency services worked so well together, and kept all our residents safe.”

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