Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives
Ted Waddell | Democrat

DONALD COOPER SR., formerly of Mileses and now living just over the border in Delaware County, points to the car that his wife Barbara was driving on Tuesday night. It was found in a foot of water, with the door open. At press time, Barbara Cooper was still listed as missing.

Nature's Fury Takes Lives, Homes

By Jeanne Sager and Barbara Gref
ROSCOE — June 22, 2007 — The imaginary line splitting Delaware and Sullivan counties means nothing to the people of Roscoe – the tragedy in the Town of Colchester is theirs.
The flash flooding of Tuesday night hit 36 homes just outside one of the northernmost hamlets of Sullivan County.
What witnesses are calling a “giant wall of water” came down from the mountains, slamming into the tiny Cat Hollow section of the Town of Colchester.
Police have already confirmed the water claimed the life of Frederick Shutts, an 81-year-old man who was in his home on Route 206 when the water swept it away.
His wife, Marge, is still among the missing as State Police Captain Rodney Campbell of Troop C, based in Oneonta, said rescue workers have shifted their focus from “search and rescue” to “search and recovery.”
The somber-faced police officer stood in front of a crew of more than a dozen members of the local and metropolitan press Thursday afternoon, carefully crafting his words.
“We have searched the areas where we should find someone alive,” he said.
But Campbell refused to put a number on how many people the rescue team of 64 volunteers and more than 100 officials expect to find as they continue on foot, by air and by ATV and as a dive team trawls the pond where the Beaverkill meets Route 206.
Eyewitness accounts of people in the area when the storm hit who have yet to be located puts the number at three or four, Campbell said, but police are still trying to locate others whose vehicles have been found as the waters have receded.
The severity of the storm and its surprise fury made residents even more vulnerable while evacuations began Tuesday evening, the river rose fiercely and swiftly. Some of those lost were swept away as rescuers were getting to them.
Severe weather warning
According to Campbell, the storm began at 7:30 p.m. after the National Weather Service had issued a warning of severe storms expected in the Town of Colchester.
The call was for an inch of rain, some hail, severe lightening, said Len Govern, chief deputy of Delaware County Emergency Services.
“They did not see this heavy band of rain,” he said. “Water rose feet in a very short period of time.”
Weather reports show as much as 8 inches fell in three hours Tuesday night.
“This wasn’t what we experienced last year with days and days of rain,” Campbell said.
People had to make decisions – fast.
By midnight, the Shutts’ ranch style home and two mobile homes had been swept away.
In the aftermath of the storm Wednesday, searchers from the state police, Sheriff’s department, State Forest Rangers and 18 volunteer fire departments from Roscoe to Woodbourne gathered at command posts and disaster staging centers in Roscoe turning the hamlet into an emergency hub.
Along the river, the scene was often eerily quiet and sometimes solitary.
A family of four paced the edges of the Beaverkill just west of Hodge’s Gym, looking in weeds and debris piles.
“Did you lose your house?” a concerned worker asked.
“I lost my mother,” the woman shook her head and replied.
The mother’s abandoned, overturned Chevy sedan was on the bank near a washed out bridge. It had been upended by rescuers looking beneath the car for any signs of the missing woman.
Downstream in the wooded embankment, State Police K-9 crew scoured the streamside with two dogs from the unit.
At 8 p.m. Wednesday night, search efforts were curtailed and resumed again yesterday morning just after dawn.
Roscoe CS becomes Red Cross relief center
The Red Cross reported some 20 families came through the relief center set up in the Roscoe Central School, 12 who needed food, clothing and seven-day vouchers for local hotels.
One mother burst into tears at the center when she saw her daughter, alive and healthy after spending the night in a private home she’d walked to as she traveled Route 206 and the waters began to rise.
Jill Puccio spent the night in that same house. Puccio, her 7-year-old daughter and their dog Red were trying to get to their home in Roscoe as the storm grew in intensity.
Puccio credits their lives to her cool calm collected daughter, Shayna who, as rain and hail pelted the car, said “Mommy, let’s make a plan; let’s stop at a stranger’s house.”
A few minutes later, Shayna announced, “Let’s put that plan into action.”
Puccio did. “I knew then, this was a matter of life and death,” she said.
Indeed precious lives have been saved in the tragedy, with more than 40 people taken to safety by emergency workers after the collapse of three bridges left them stranded in the disaster zone.
Those who were rescued were spared serious injury, according to Roger Burch, response coordinator at the Red Cross Center.
The most serious injuries treated at press time were limited to the sprained ankle of one fireman and a minor head injury to another.
Workers are trying to minimize any more injuries by keeping non-emergency personnel out of the area – even residents are expected to be barred from returning home for seven to 10 days.
The power situation
Combined Energy Services of Monticello sent employees to the scene to begin collecting LP gas tanks from the disaster site to reduce the chance of gas leaks in the area.
The National Guard was deployed to the Downsville side of the disaster, while NYSEG workers scurried to restore power to 160 homes.
Sullivan County Public Safety Director Dick Martinkovic said his tallies show 30 sections of utility pole down in the 6-mile stretch of Route 206.
Even more dramatic were the large sections of road that had literally disappeared, he said.
Motorists were caught unaware when the storm hit, some driving in the darkness into areas where the road had crumbled away.
Among the missing is Barbara Clarke Cooper, the 74-year-old wife of Donald Cooper, once a popular bus driver in the Delaware Valley Central School District.
She’d been driving down Route 206 when the storm hit.
Donald, who just wed Barbara in March after a long courtship, found only her green sedan with the driver’s side door open in about a foot of water near what used to be Hodge’s Gym.
“The whole neighborhood is in trouble . . . I realized that people I know might be dead,” said Fred Billings, who watched people’s homes wash past his own on Spring Brook Road.
Jeff Lackey and Andrea Brown live on Spring Brook too – and they’ve never seen water like they saw Tuesday night.
“It happened so fast,” said Lackey, who tried to rescue a picnic table from the rising flash flood, but when he felt the power of the water, retreated to the safety of his house.
“To the Westbrookville, Livingston Manor and Delaware River incidents, this is like 10 times more damage in a localized 6-mile area,” Martinkovic said.
“Some houses will never be seen again. The pieces are in the woods somewhere,” he said, shaking his head. “Some will be reviewed by code enforcement and should be liveable by next week.
“But the road is completely, completely gone in places,” he said.
Both Delaware County and Sullivan County Department of Public Works employees were on the scene, trying to rebuild the road to extend the reach of rescue crews.
And even when darkness forced them to abandon their searches, the crews continued their vigil.
Remembering his bus driver
“Just about every member of this department has been here at some point in the last 48 hours,” said Keith Travers, first assistant chief of the Roscoe Fire Department.
“We’re a tight, small community,” he said, shaking his head. “In one way, shape or form, we all know each other.
“Mr. Shutts was my bus driver,” he recalled. “He drove me to BOCES . . . he’s a good guy.
“He was a ball buster,” Travers said. “You know, one of the old-fashioned bus drivers, but a good man.”
His sad smile drove home the effects of a Delaware County tragedy on the folks of Sullivan County.
“That’s our fire protection district,” Travers said. “We protect those people . . . and we’re volunteers, we’re going to be here ‘till it’s over.”
“The family ties are here,” Martinkovic reiterated. “The fact that they’re over a political line does not change us.”
Democrat reporter Ted Waddell contributed to this story.

top of page  |  home  |  archives