Sullivan County Democrat
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Democrat Photo by Paul Hemmer

GONE: Gables Road near Lava was severely damaged during the torrential rains that devastated portions of the towns of Tusten and Cochecton. County officials said an unusually strong cell of thunderstorms swept through the area Saturday, wreaking havoc on roads and even homes.

Floods Rip Through
Delaware River Valley

By Paul Hemmer
NARROWSBURG — August 15, 2000 – Heavy rains saturated western Sullivan County on Saturday, washing out roads, endangering bridges and flooding basements. Area fire departments were soon busy trying to keep up with the ever-increasing volume of calls as the rains continued throughout the morning.
An estimated 8 to 10 inches of rain was said to have fallen during the morning, before finally tapering off around 1 p.m.
Lake Huntington Fire Department was the first to be called to water flooding over the road near Heinle's Store in Cochecton Center. What followed was a domino-effect of emergency calls throughout the townships of Cochecton, Tusten and Delaware that soon reached overwhelming proportions. Roads throughout these townships were either flooded or suffered severe washouts, and basements were flooding.
Help was called in from surrounding fire departments who responded from Lava, Kenoza Lake, Jeffersonville, Hortonville, Callicoon and White Lake. These departments assisted with initial traffic control problems and pumping out the flooded basements. Hankins, North Branch and Smallwood stood by for Callicoon, Hortonville and White Lake while they were working at their assigned locations.
Not long after the initial calls for assistance were received, officials declared a state of emergency in the towns of Cochecton, Tusten and Delaware. As the scope of the unfolding disaster broadened, a county-level state of emergency was declared at noon, according to County Fire Coordinator Harold Kronenberg. By mid-day, command posts were set up at the Lake Huntington firehouse and the Lava firehouse to coordinate the ongoing emergency efforts.
Adding additional drama to an already critical situation, Narrowsburg Fire Department had to be called to assist Tusten Ambulance in rescuing Joanne Snow from 90 Buddenhagen Road in the Town of Tusten.
According to Deputy Fire Coordinator Joe Mellan, Snow was struck by lightning while talking on her cordless phone and could not be reached by EMS personnel because of flooding conditions on Buddenhagen Road. Utilizing an inflatable rubber raft, Narrowsburg firefighters were able to reach the woman and deliver her to the waiting ambulance on dry ground.
She was taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital in Honesdale, Pa. where she was treated and released.
“Our house was hit by lightning while I was on the phone,” Snow said yesterday afternoon. “I received a jolt — but was not unconscious.”
Snow termed the EMS’s rescue “very dramatic — our road was washed out.”
“They were wonderful,” Snow said of her rescueres.
Mellan also reported that residents of a weekend home on Ten Mile River were evacuated without injury as their house teetered on the edge of being swept away by the violent current as flood waters swept into the Delaware River.
Not far from Heinle's Store in Cochecton center, John Gorzynski's organic vegetable farm suffered tremendous damage due to raging waters that swept across State Route 52. Dorothy Gorzynski, John's mother, stated that most all of this year's crop had been lost, and at this point she didn't know whether any of what was left would survive.
Kronenberg, who is also the County Emergency Management Director, said that by 1 p.m. Saturday, Chris Holmes from the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) had arrived at the county control center to help coordinate damage assessment and repair. He also reported that a meeting was held at the Emergency Control Center late Saturday, which included himself, Holmes (SEMO), Acting County Manager Harvey Smith, DPW Commissioner Pete Lilholt, Paul Burckard (County Damage Assessment), Sheriff Dan Hogue and several members of the Sullivan County chapter of the Red Cross. This meeting helped coordinate the state, county and town employees, who had already been set in motion to tackle the enormous effort that lay ahead.
Starting early Sunday and continuing throughout the day, crews worked feverishly to repair what had been undone by raging waters only hours before. After assessing damage throughout the affected townships on Sunday morning, state, county and town officials gathered about 11 a.m. at the Lava firehouse to discuss what lay ahead. According to officials at the meeting, work would continue throughout the week to repair roads that had been damaged by the storm. Damage has already been estimated at thousands of dollars.

Special Report: Tusten,
Cochecton Hardest Hit

By John Emerson
TEN MILE RIVER — August 15, 2000 – Normally, Ten Mile River in the Town of Tusten is a pleasant little stream meandering through beautiful wooded glades as it empties into the Delaware.
That stream turned into a torrent over the weekend as a stalled thunderstorm turned the river and other streams in the area into raging, destructive torrents washing away roads and bridges and generally devastating the area.
“The damage out there is in the millions [of dollars],” said Sullivan County Public Works Commissioner Peter Lilholt. “At this point, I don’t know if it’s in the 10s or 20s, but it’s in the millions.”
The storm that hit Saturday dropped an estimated 8-10 inches of rain within a four or five-hour period on the towns of Cochecton and Tusten, creating havoc with roads and bridges. Many roads were closed as racing water overcame drainage ditches and culvert pipes, eroding roadways and roadbeds and undermining travel lanes. Bridges were also damaged as rampaging water washed away foundations and battered them with debris.
One bridge that sustained significant damage was County Bridge #291 in the Town of Tusten. Action Toward Independence, a community action group, had scheduled a fundraising Duck Derby by the beautiful stone arch bridge on Sunday afternoon, which they were forced to cancel.
“We build bridges based on the 100-year flood,” said Lilholt. “There were several bridges that were breached because the water rose so fast that they simply weren’t capable of handling the flows.”
Town roads and bridges were also hard hit from the violence of the storm. Emergency meetings in the towns of Tusten and Cochecton were held to deal with the damage and make plans for future repairs. The county has already declared the area a disaster area and is scheduled to meet with the Federal Emergency Management Agency today to try to arrange emergency funding and relief for repairs.
The roads and bridges were not the only things to be battered by the rains and winds of the storm. Canoe and raft liveries and other tourist-based businesses suffered, as people simply went home or stayed inside while the rain poured down.
“It was a total washout for us,” said Rick Lander, the owner of Lander’s River Trips. “The main stem of the Delaware wasn’t that bad – it was the tributaries that were dangerous. We couldn’t get up and down Route 97, so on Saturday we simply shut down the operation entirely. We also have to repair some of our beaches and access roads, but the big thing was losing a full day in the busiest time of the year. We were booked solid.”
Among the more seriously damaged county roads in the area were County Roads 23, 111, 114 and 116, Lilholt said. Emergency repairs have been made and safety investigations of bridges along those roads are underway, although the high water is hampering those investigation efforts.
“Until the water recedes, we won’t know the full extent of the damage,” Lilholt said.
Tusten Supervisor Richard Crandall estimated damage to town roads and bridges at more than $1.5 million and growing. He said among the hardest hit areas of the town were Hoffman Road, Ackerman Road and Perry Pond, in addition to the road that was washed out near the stone arch bridge.
“Several ponds lost their dams, and the road to Rock Lake is devastated,” he said. “The highway superintendent and I are meeting with the people from FEMA tomorrow. When your annual highway budget is only $400,000, something like this is very hard to take. It will be years before we recover from this without help from someplace.”
As for the Duck Derby, the event has been rescheduled to the Town of Thompson Park for tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. More than 600 plastic ducks will float down the tributary of the Mongaup River that flows through the park, and the lucky winner will receive a $500 first prize. Ducks can still be purchased for a $5 contribution by calling 794-4228.

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