As temperatures rose on Wednesday, breaking a prolonged cold snap, crews from West Seneca and the Buffalo Police Department’s underwater squad took some preventive measures to keep the banks of Cayuga Creek and Buffalo Creek from overflowing, in the event that ice and the snow pack would begin to melt too quickly.
Their action was a great relief to residents in the Lexington Green area of West Seneca, who are still recovering from flooding that damaged about 70 homes in the neighborhood in early January.
“If you had walked through here then, the water would have been over your waist,” said David Monolopolus, as he and two other men loaded a truck with sandbags that were provided by the town.
To help stave off another scenario like that, teams from West Seneca and Buffalo on Wednesday climbed down an 18-foot ladder onto the ice, where the Buffalo and Cayuga creeks meet near Harlem Road and Clinton Street, in an effort to relieve some of the pressure that builds up when the ice and water from the creeks begin to flow downstream.
Wearing orange and black dry suits, they fanned out and began using chain saws to cut a series of about 50 triangles in the ice in the shallow parts where the two creeks meet. The plastic survival suits would prevent the team members from getting wet in case they fell through the ice.
The teams carved the triangles, instead of circles, in the ice to create stress points.
“It helps in melting the ice, weakening it so we have some controlled cracking to assist in moving it downstream from Buffalo Creek on to the major Buffalo River,” said Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven Stempniak.
As early as last week, the city began employing the Buffalo Fireboat Edward M. Cotter to begin breaking up ice on the Buffalo River, Stempniak said. On Tuesday, city crews were out with chain saws, carving triangles in ice-filled Cazenovia Creek. On Wednesday, the same teams assisted the Town of West Seneca in employing the same method at Buffalo Creek.
John Gullo, West Seneca’s emergency manager, said the method had not been previously employed by the town at Buffalo Creek, though it has in the past been successful for Buffalo.
“It has worked for them, so I thought I’d try it for us. Everything they do affects us, because they’re downstream from us. If they have an ice jam, it’s going to affect us up here,” Gullo said.
“We want to make sure the water will melt through the ice,” he said, mindful of weather forecasts that call for a warming period throughout the week.
When temperatures climbed briefly after a 12-day cold snap in early January, it spelled disaster for some West Seneca residents, like Jon and Linda Robbins, whose Gregory Court home backs up to Buffalo Creek. The force of the flood destroyed their basement.
“The water was 10 feet deep in the basement,” Jon Robbins said, as a contractor worked to repair the damage to the basement Wednesday.
“We had a lot of stuff. I mean, it was all finished. So that was our party room. It was my man cave. That was where my 1969 jukebox was,” he added.
Monolopolus was scrambling to take advantage of the 30-pound sandbags in a couple of large, yellow crates that the town dropped off at Brian Lane and Lexington Green, as well as at Gregory Court and Lexington Green.
“We are right now sandbagging a few of the widowers’ houses because they can’t physically do it,” Monolopolus said.
“I had two pumps, and I had the resources to get some of the stuff to save me, and that’s why I’m helping everybody. I was fortunate, me and my wife. There was no loss of human life. There’s a guy up the street who’s got $159,000 in damage to his house. How do you recover from that? And the insurance only covers 50 grand,” he added.
Monolopolus’ friend and neighbor, James Mehnert, also of Lexington Green, recalled that the flooding was swift and sudden.
“It all hit so fast, you didn’t have a chance to think,” Mehnert said.
On the day of the flood, Mehnert said he went down to his basement and saw water coming in through the basement windows.
Meanwhile, several residents in the neighborhood Wednesday continued to clear debris – including chunks of concrete – from their damaged basements five weeks after the major flooding event.
In preparation for a possible repeat of that incident Wednesday, both Mehnert and Monolopolus barricaded their garage doors with the sandbags.
“It may still come in the sides, but we just want to retard it,” Mehnert said of the possibility of another flood, “because if it goes down as fast as it come up, if you can hold it off for a few hours, it goes down,”
Meanwhile, the Robbinses applauded the efforts by the town and the City of Buffalo to keep Buffalo Creek from overflowing again.
“I think at least it shows something is being done because it’s what the people in this area collectively felt like nothing was done or West Seneca wasn’t as prepared as they should be,” Lisa Robbins said.