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North country threatened by flooding rivers

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Flood waters continued to rise in St. Lawrence County Wednesday, causing more road and bridge closures and resulting in building evacuations.

Forty senior housing apartments were evacuated at Cambray Court, 68 W. Main St., Gouverneur, due to flooding from the Oswegatchie River Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.

Some residents of the 100-unit complex are staying with relatives or at the Kinney Nursing Home on West Barney Street, while others are staying in the building’s common room.

“They’ve got about 30 cots set up in the common area,” Mayor Ronald P. McDougall said. “The fire department was there pumping the basement area but it seemed like the water was coming in as fast as they were pumping it out.”

No damage has been done to the apartments and the water has only infiltrated a four-foot crawl space underneath buildings 7C, 8B, 6A and 3A, according to Robbie W. Wentzel, maintenance supervisor for United Helpers Management Company, which manages the property.

“The fire department did a great job with keeping the water down,” he said Wednesday morning. “It seems to be stable now.”

Mr. Wentzel said the crawlspace under the apartments from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning was taking on an inch of water per hour, but Wednesday it slowed to 1.5 inches over more than four hours.

The village declared a state of emergency Tuesday night, as the Oswegatchie River threatens other property, bridges and roads. St. Lawrence County and several other municipalities declared states of emergency earlier in the day.

Mr. McDougall said the state Department of Transportation was examining the Route 58 Bridge over the Oswegatchie in the village because the water level has reached the metal underneath it, and they may need to close it. He said the cold temperatures Tuesday night helped slow things down a little, but not nearly as much as he had hoped.

“It’s getting worse by the hour,” he said. “We’re hoping it will crest and then start receding. We’re doing the best we can with what we have to make sure no one gets hurt.”

The Oswegatchie River is also causing problems for Ogdensburg.

City Department of Works Supervisor Gregg E. Harland said he has been checking the Maple City Trail daily and hopes that the flooding won’t cause significant damage.

A section of the trail near the Algonquin Power Dam has been under water since late last week. He said city officials have not yet been able to assess whether flood waters have caused any damage.

“You won’t be able to tell until the water goes down,” he said.

Mr. Harland said the the trail was able to withstand minor flooding in past years.

“It always held up and I’m hoping it will hold up again,” Mr. Harland said.

The trail’s lighting system — which was already malfunctioning and scheduled for an update — will need to be inspected and dried out, he said.

The St. Regis River overflowed its banks in Brasher and Winthrop over the past three days. The DOT closed Route 11C in Brasher Falls Tuesday morning due to flooding.

The National Weather Service reported the St. Regis River at Brasher Center rising to 12.25 feet Tuesday evening, the fourth highest level on record.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Michael Muccilli said that the last time the river reached those heights was on April 7, 1947. The highest on record was 15.3 feet on April 6, 1937.

The river had dropped to 12.1 feet by Wednesday afternoon and was gradually receding.

“There was a lot of sandbagging yesterday. The water is dropping today and things are looking good,” Brasher-Winthrop Fire Chief Patrick Kowalchuk said.

Both bridges on Routes 420 and 11C were closed Tuesday.

National Grid spokesperson Virginia Limmiatis said some customers lost power for approximately 30 minutes Tuesday evening.

She said in order to avoid power outages, National Grid had to elevate the fuses at the substation at 180 County Route 53, Brasher Falls, so the bypass circuit breakers wouldn’t be damaged by the flood.

U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on Wednesday asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue an agriculture disaster declaration and send relief to farms in Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

“Heavy flooding is wiping out roads and bridges, isolating farms, destroying resources that keep them operating, and threatening to leave many farms under water,” Mrs. Gillibrand said a news release. “We need these federal resources on the ground without delay so we can help our farms recover and support our economy.”

Federal assistance could include low-interest emergency loans, technical assistance or replenishing lost livestock.

Robert G. Andrews, chairman of the St. Lawrence County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board and of the Soil & Water Conservation District, said farms have been suffering.

“When you have barns that are flooded with the amount of standing water they’ve been getting, farmers have to get the animals out,” he said. “If that’s not a state of emergency, I don’t know what is.”

County Director of the Farm Service Agency Clark A. Putman said the agency has not heard from any farmers in trouble with flooding, but farmland will be more affected than livestock. He said most of the county’s farms are away from the flooded rivers.

“There may be acres of land under water, but we won’t know the extent of the damage until the water recedes, which it hasn’t yet,” he said. “The effect on agriculture will be minimal compared to the effect on roads and bridges.”

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