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Waterlogged once again

McGraw suffers brunt of the damage

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Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Floodwaters from Trout Brook flow over the banks on East Academy Street in McGraw where the worst of the flooding occurred Friday afternoon. A storm dumped 2 to 3 inches of rain on the region.

By COREY PRESTON
Staff Reporter

McGRAW — Larry McConnell stood in his backyard at 2 Charles St. in McGraw watching Smith Brook, a normally trickling creek that runs behind his property, rage powerfully by, leaving in its wake flooded yards and homes, including his own.
“It’s unreal,” McConnell said. “Every single time it rains here this happens.”
Hard, fast rains began flooding the area just beneath the South Street hill, which includes Charles, East Academy and Spring streets and McGraw-Marathon Road, at around 1 p.m. Friday, residents said.
By 2 p.m., the water had risen over the top of the bridge on Academy Street that crosses Smith Brook, and trees swept up in the floodwaters were diverting water all over the neighborhood.
“There was so much water so fast, the creeks can’t handle it,” said Tom Heller, second assistant chief for the McGraw Fire Department, who was helping to block the road and keep curious onlookers out of the fast moving waters.
“At this point, we’re just blocking the road up, there’s nothing else we can do.”
Mayor Jay Cobb declared a state of emergency in McGraw at 1:30 p.m., saying the speed with which the rain came made this flooding especially severe.
“In the 50 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything this bad, not in this section,” Cobb said.
The McGraw Fire Department shut down part of Route 41, Bennett, East Academy, West Academy and Spring streets, Fire Chief Larry Petrie said.
The state of emergency was lifted at 5 p.m. By approximately 5:15, all roads had been reopened, but drivers were told to proceed with caution.
In the areas closest to the creek, water in people’s yards reached about 2 1/2 feet, Petrie said, and the fire department was working to place sandbags to prevent flooding inside homes.
Once the water started to recede, the department would begin pumping basements, Petrie said Friday.
“With all the rain we’ve had, the ground is just saturated and there’s nowhere for the water to go,” he said.
That much of the water wound up in their yards and in their homes left area residents upset, and many blamed the Academy Street culvert for the flooding.
“It all starts with that bridge,” McConnell said. “The water breaks over that bridge and it just diverts it in every possible direction.”
McConnell stacked sandbags at the ground level entrance to his basement, where he was trying to protect a new furnace, a hot water tank, and a washer and dryer — all purchased with government loans that came after last April’s flooding — but about 6 inches of water had already accumulated.
“I can’t pump my cellar fast enough,” he said.
One of McConnell’s neighbors, Debbie Glover-Oskinski of 17 E. Academy St., was thankful she had opted to work at home Friday, as she was able to get sandbags in place to protect her newly redecorated kitchen and her garage.
“There’s still some water in the garage but it could be a lot worse if I wasn’t home,” said Glover-Oskinski, whose entire yard was covered with a foot of water. “The worst will be cleaning it all up because the debris is just disgusting.”
Jeremiah Rawson, who recently bought a house on Spring Street, said he’d been told his house wasn’t in the flood plain.
“I thought it was a freak thing — I wasn’t going to buy the house if it was going to be flooding,” Rawson said as he surveyed the damage done, including 3 feet of water in his basement and an inch and a half of sand that had accumulated in his driveway. “This is my second week here — happy housewarming.”
As neighbors waded out into the water to either help clear sewer drains or simply to commiserate, many opined as to why flooding is such a persistent problem in the area, and how the problem could be fixed.
“All kinds of water comes down from the hill, but they don’t do any drainage up there or anything, so it all lands in these people’s yards,” said Mike Ferguson, who lives on the hill at 14 OK St.
Some residents suggested raising the culvert on East Academy Street to reduce the blockage that diverted the water, while others said that simple 6-inch curbs along East Academy Street could redirect floodwaters into drains.
“Somebody’s got to do something,” said Glover-Oskinski. “We can’t all be home all the time, and we never know when it’s going to get so bad it makes its way up into your living room.”
Highway Supervisor Andy Chavoustie said that much of the recent flooding is a fairly new phenomenon, possibly the result of increased building in the area.
“You’ve got new homes and stuff built outside the village, and that just adds to it,” Chavoustie said. “It doesn’t just rain anymore — it pours. This is our fourth rain event in 20 months.”
The downed trees and debris clogging the creek at East Academy Street only exacerbated the problem, Chavoustie said. The city of Cortland was going to send over equipment to move the obstructions, Chavoustie said at 4 p.m.
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Staff reporter Evan Geibel contributed to this article.

 

Otter Creek spills out onto city’s West Side

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Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
The intersection of Port Watson and Pendleton streets was flooded with more than a foot of water after heavy rains Friday.

By ANTHONY SYLOR and EVAN GEIBEL
Staff Reporters

CORTLAND — After heavy rain on Friday afternoon left parts of McGraw badly damaged, a late rise in Otter Creek caused standing water in the streets and basement flooding on Cortland’s West Side.
Townley and Groton avenues, Woodruff Street and Broadway all had several inches of water on them Friday evening, long after the rain had stopped.
Capt. Edward Beebe of the Cortland City Fire Department said that the rain stopped just before 4 p.m. and that the department was called out to the flooding at 5:30 p.m.
“What’s happened is this has run off from the south valley and there is more water than the bridge can handle,” he said of the bridge near the intersection of Townley Ave. and Broadway. “It’s starting to go down now but some houses have a lot in their basements. We had to shut the gas off.”
Steve Circio of 9 Townley Ave. and his neighbor Rob Spaulding of 7 Townley Ave. were standing in their yards trying to pump the water out of their basements.
“A lot,” Circio said when asked how much water was in his basement. “It came up in about 15 minutes. They said that the bridge down there can’t hold the water.
“Seventeen years we’ve been here and this is the second time we’ve flooded. The first time was last April,”Spaulding added. “They said the Cortland Water Board is supposed to bring water pumps over.”
Between 2 to 3 inches of rain fell in an hour in a half early Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service in Binghamton.
“We had a very weak frontal system and heavy rain that passed back and forth over the same area. Most of it came down on you,” said Mike Jurweicz, of the National Weather Service in Binghamton, referring to Cortland County.
The flooding on Broadway had reached the curb opposite Otter Creek during last April’s flood, said Betsy Beardsley of 114 Broadway, but she had been in Florida. This year, she had enough foresight to have a sump pump on hand.