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5 rescued from rapidly rising creek

When Capt. Kevin Caffery maneuvered his Erie County Sheriff's Office helicopter into place Thursday morning above the quickly rising waters of Cattaraugus Creek, he knew that the people standing below him were in trouble.

"All of them were standing in water," he said. "They probably would have been washed away in a very short period of time."

With Caffery piloting Air One, Deputy Joel Schenfield lowered a hoist down to the men. One at a time, the men got into the rescue basket and were flown to shore.

The dramatic rescue during a flash flood was the culmination of a wild night of powerful thunderstorms that also included fallen trees, lightning strikes and sporadic power failures.

The rescued men work for R.W. Ward Inc., a Scottsville contractor hired by the Thruway Authority to do routine maintenance work on a support of the Cattaraugus Creek Bridge on the Cattaraugus Reservation.

They had started their shift at 6 a.m. and had made their way out on a temporary bridge to the bridge support when the creek quickly flooded, stranding the five, as well as a bulldozer and a high-lift.

After plucking them from the water, rescuers determined that the men were not injured.

"They were wet, but they're OK," Caffery said.

About five hours earlier, lightning struck the side of a home on Sterling Place in Lancaster.

Two people were home at the time. They heard the storm and then realized their carbon monoxide alarm was beeping. They got out of bed and noticed the smell of gas and saw that power was out in half the house, said Bowmansville Fire Chief Tom Trzepacz. They left the house and called 911.

The lightning blew a hole about 5 to 6 inches in diameter through the siding, went into the laundry room and ruptured a gas line in the wall, he said. It continued through the gas line into the basement, arced on a heat vent and blew two holes in the bathroom on the first floor, Trzepacz said.

The overnight storms also caused a few power failures, but nothing substantial or long lasting, according to officials from National Grid and New York State Electric & Gas.

Wires were reported down in several locations, including North Tonawanda and Buffalo, and trees were reported down on Richmond Avenue in Buffalo, in Middleport, on Kaiser Road in Concord and on New Jerusalem Road in Eden.

Trees came down on three houses in the Town of Wilson, and a couple of power lines were reported down in Cambria, Niagara County sheriff's officials said.

email: bobrien@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com