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A week that changed our lives

August 30, 2009
Observer Today

OBSERVER Staff Report

Here are some of the headlines and portions of stories published in the OBSERVER from Aug. 11 to 16:


Article Photos

Above, a mother and daughter make their way through Gowanda one day after the flooding.

Gov. Paterson declares

region 'disaster area'

New York state Governor David A. Paterson Monday afternoon declared a State Disaster Emergency to expedite assistance to Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Erie counties and contiguous areas that suffered loss of life and sustained extensive damage overnight Sunday from severe thunderstorms and ensuing flooding which continues to threaten public health and safety.

"These storms struck with a vengeance, causing an unfortunate loss of life and much personal hardship in the declared areas of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties," Gov. Paterson said in a news release. "I have ordered state agencies to provide all assistance possible to protect our friends and neighbors in the affected counties."

Two die in Gowanda

An 80-year-old man died after being swept away by floodwaters and another man died of an apparent heart attack after flooding prevented emergency crews from reaching him as thunderstorms knocked out power to thousands across Western New York, authorities said Monday.

Gowanda, a rural valley town of 2,600 people, appeared to be one of the worst-hit areas. A hospital was evacuated and more than 80 residents spent the night in a school after swollen creeks breached their banks Sunday, flooding homes and streets overnight. Of the town's 1,000 or so homes, 300 to 400 were damaged, authorities said.

Theodore E. Stitzel, 80, of Gowanda had gone out to check on a bridge on his property late Sunday after a creek near his home overflowed, Cattaraugus County police said, and he lost his footing and drowned. Authorities estimated the water was water estimated 8 to 9 feet above flood stage.

Authorities also received a 911 call about 2 a.m. from Floyd C. Farley, 81, whose street was under water. EMTs had to use a front-end loader to reach the man's house, but he apparently died of a heart attack, Gowanda disaster coordinator Nick Crassi said. Crassi didn't know whether the man would have survived had emergency workers been able to reach him more quickly.

AUG. 12

Gowanda taps

emergency water supply

GOWANDA - The floodwaters that overtook Gowanda starting late Sunday night had long receded by Tuesday, but the village still faces a number of problems - one of the highest being a lack of fresh, usable water.

The widespread flood damage took a heavy toll on the village reservoir located off Point Peter Road, turning the once placid body of water into a turbid disaster littered with fallen trees and debris. Repair costs are currently estimated in the millions of dollars.

In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, officials explained the village would revert to wells that have not seen use in more than a decade to supplement its water supply. The Cattaraugus and Erie County departments of health are testing the supply, with results expected sometime Wednesday, but has granted the village special permission to use the supply now granted that a boil water order is followed.

"It's a water supply that has been historic to the village of Gowanda since 1933 and it's not an unknown commodity," Public Works Superintendent Michael Hutchinson said. "That should give some reassurance to the residents. We're unsure of the quality of the water; we're confirming that. However, due to the current water usage and the low level in our reservoir, we have to use that water now."

Cleanup begins

in Silver Creek, surrounding area

SILVER CREEK - Efforts to salvage damaged property, provide relief to a shaken population, and restore the village of Silver Creek to some degree of normalcy began immediately following severe flooding early this week.

Streets throughout the village were inundated for much of Tuesday, though no longer by flood water. Instead, there was the steady ebb and flow of village residents, officials and employees - as well as volunteers from numerous other nearby communities - helping to clear away debris and clean out basements full of damaged property.

In addition, county, state and federal officials were on scene, including County Executive Greg Edwards and United States Congressman Brian Higgins, who visited flood sites throughout the village in order to review the damage and speak with area residents about their concerns and needs. Edwards and Higgins toured Silver Village Mobile Home Park, the municipal building, the department of public works building, the village wastewater treatment plant, and the residential areas most heavily damaged in the flood.

"I know Chautauqua County," Edwards said during a press conference Tuesday, held at Silver Creek High School, which now serves as the American Red Cross-Salvation Army disaster relief shelter and county command center. "This is a time when we demonstrate what it means to be a neighbor ... We've got great volunteers; we've got great neighbors in Chautauqua County."

AUG. 13

National Guard addressing

water crisis in?Gowanda

GOWANDA - Hundreds of questions surely remain for the many Gowanda residents affected by recent flood damage but answers are beginning to surface.

Following his press conference and assessment of the damage done in Silver Creek, Gov. David Paterson met with local officials at Gowanda Middle School Wednesday evening to brief everyone on the matters at hand.

"As everybody knows, the water system here in Gowanda has been severely compromised, and not helped by a fire to one of the homes just a couple of hours ago," Paterson began. "The local reservoirs have overtopped and have severely reduced the amount of available water that is here. The sewer system has been damaged, the mayor reports that hundreds of homes have been damaged, the police department and municipal buildings have received damage, the Tri-County Hospital has been evacuated and closed as of early Monday morning and it will remain closed for some period of time."

The damages found in Erie and Cattaraugus counties that Paterson eluded to have been roughly estimated at around $19 million, $7 million shy of the federal threshold for disaster relief aid. Despite the rough estimate, Paterson said he believes the $26 million worth of damage required could come from the Gowanda area alone.

Paterson offers renewed hope

to hard-hit areas

SILVER CREEK - "What resources we can make available, we will make them available."

Such was the message Gov. David Paterson brought with him Wednesday on his visit to the most heavily damaged areas across the region - including the village of Silver Creek. It was an assurance he made to hundreds of flood-ravaged residents in spite of the current budget crisis which has left the entire economy of New York state in shambles.

"I think that in the midst of a fiscal crisis, that government always has to be fair and always has to be compassionate," Paterson said. "... The state is in a horrible fiscal crisis right now, but it should never be so horrible that you don't try to save lives."

By Monday afternoon, Paterson had declared the region a disaster area in order to expedite assistance to Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties following what he described as "persistent storms and unprecedented flash flooding from late Sunday night into Monday morning." In addition, the National Guard was activated and, as of Wednesday afternoon, had already arrived in the areas most severely damaged by flooding.

AUG. 14

Water outlook improves

GOWANDA - Officials in Gowanda shared brighter news regarding the area's low water supply Thursday, but made sure to note they were "not out of the woods yet" in terms of restricting use.

Public Works Superintendent Michael Hutchinson said during a daily press update that the supply in the village's backup reservoir has started to increase.

"There are encouraging improvements and we are confident we'll be able to, at this point now, sustain a water supply if we all work together," Hutchinson said.

The backup reservoir, supported by springs and a water supply unused in more than a decade as well as supplemental sources, can hold 1.7 million gallons. It is a far cry from the 10 million gallons the damaged Point Peter Road reservoir could hold, but is workable after crews managed to start the 1933 pump at the Hill Street site.

AUG. 15

Financial assistance sought

SILVER CREEK - Local and county employees and volunteer crews have been working around the clock in the flood damaged areas of downtown Silver Creek over the past week. On Friday, Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards assessed the current situation, announced a new informational number and presented a call for volunteers and financial donations.

"We have come together, we have a seamless opportunity for folks in need and also for those who want to volunteer and help those who need it so much in the village of Silver Creek, in the town of Hanover and in the surrounding areas," he began during the news conference. "I'm pleased to report it is as easy as one telephone call. All people have to do, who have a need - a non-fire non-police need - they can dial 211. We've been in direct communication with the United Way ... they are ready to take your call. If you dial 211 most all day long you will get a live operator who can ask you specifically what your need is and they'll be able to get you to the right people."

Gowanda residents bring questions on flood recovery

Gowanda residents, many of whom have been working hard since Monday to clean out their flooded homes, came to the high school Friday to have their questions answered by area and organization officials.

The forum began after a brief introduction of the panel - filling a table in the front of the auditorium as well as the first row of seats - after which things were immediately turned over to residents. Some widespread concerns became apparent quickly, including the water situation, prior warning and prevention, and finding assistance.

For Jeanine Sauriol of Gowanda Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, water concerns are many-fold.

"We have 160 residents at our facilities, and are we still at a limited use of water?" she asked. "We have residents that are wanting to bathe. We've been trying very hard to help the town by keeping down on those types of activities, purchasing water and bringing it into the facility for their use."

Officials replied that the limitations are still in effect, as is the boil water order, but progress continues to pick up toward possessing a water supply stable enough to lift those bans.

"The water quality is good and the quantity is there," Public Works Superintendent Michael Hutchinson said. "Our reservoir is at 15 feet today (about a four-day supply, according to Village Engineer Mark Burr) and things are looking up."

AUG. 16

FEMA finds 43 homes destroyed in Chautauqua County

County Executive Greg Edwards said Saturday FEMA has completed a physical inspection of the damage caused by last week's flooding across Chautauqua County.

This included 410 inspections in the Silver Creek, Forestville, Busti, Kiantone and Jamestown communities, he said. Of inspected homes, 43 were considered destroyed, 196 suffered major damage and 129 suffered minor damage.

"The FEMA inspection confirmed what we already knew to be true - that significant destruction has occurred to homes and property across the county," he said.



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