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Day 5: Preparing for massive floods on Day 6

Dozens of light towers, 28 swift water rescue boats, 375 water pumps, power generators and more than 176,000 sand bags have been brought in from across the state as the entire area braces for what could be massive flooding as an epic snow melt begins this weekend.

And more supplies are on the way.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was in town again Friday, helping local agencies prepare for the expected floods.

“The materials are here, the personnel is here,” Cuomo said.

He and local officials painted an ominous picture of what could come in the next few days, as temperatures reaching as high as 60 degrees melt the snow that has buried the area. Storm drains are clogged with snow, leaving homes and roads the only options for water to flow into and potentially cutting power to residents.

Areas that did not get much snow – including Amherst and Clarence –are likely to bear the brunt of the flooding.

Cuomo reinforced that state responders and the New York State National Guard are pulling from past experience dealing with storms Irene and Sandy. In those cases, the areas affected did not have the supplies on hand when the storms hit, making the recovery difficult more difficult.

“They have been through this a couple of times already,” Cuomo said. “The most critical state agencies have been relocated to Western New York.”

“Hopefully, we need none of those,” he added. “And hopefully this was just an elaborate exercise in logistics.”

A county spokesperson said that no areas are being evacuated, but there are contingency plans in place if evacuations become necessary.

“Erie County Emergency Services is working closely with statewide counterparts to coordinate response, with boats and other equipment on hand, as well as heavy duty pumps to assist in handling potential flood waters,” according to a county statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is laying the groundwork for the roughly half-million homeowners and small businesses – as well as municipalities – to get reimbursement for damages and losses from this week’s historic snowstorm.

Homeowners, business owners, farmers and area towns all could receive federal aid to help cover the costs of storm damage and recovery if local leaders ask the federal government to declare Western New York a disaster area.

To qualify, the damage must meet certain federally set guidelines, and government officials expect that will be the case. The cost of recovery from the storm must reach $3.2 million for the county and about $27 million for the state.

“We have already talked to the top people in the White House and said ‘Get ready. We need help,” Schumer said.

Homeowners would qualify for dollars to repair collapsed roofs or broken heating systems. The average award is typically between $5,000 and $7,000. Schumer urged homeowners to keep records of any expenses they incurred.

“If you just say I had $8,000 in damage, FEMA’s not going to reimburse you," Schumer said. “You’ve got to document it.”

Businesses that lost inventory, such as food, that spoiled because of power failures could also get up to $2 million. They could also get assistance for profits lost if customers could not get to the store because of driving bans.

Schumer is also urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work with local officials to provide technical assistance and support in anticipation of a federal disaster being declared. Schumer said he wants to avoid what happened in 2006 after the October Storm, when the area had difficulty receiving its federal emergency reimbursement.

“Once this threshold is reached, it opens up a wide array of programs to help the area recover,” he said.

Local officials also talked about their preparations for anticipated flooding. A flood Watch has been issued for Genesee, Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and Wyoming County until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The snow may soon be gone, but the half-million storm-weary residents of the Snow Belt will soon have another weather event to worry about: massive flooding.

Following this week’s historic snow dump, temperatures today will start to steadily rise, continuing in the next few days until they reach as high as 60 degrees.

By Tuesday, all this record-breaking snow may have melted.

But there is nowhere for the water to go, because many storm drains – particularly in the hardest-hit areas – are clogged with snow.

That leaves few options but the streets and people’s basements.

“You start to get this real heavy thaw, and it starts filling the streets” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Tony Asuini of this unprecedented situation. “It could be a real mess.”

The New York State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services is also cautioning that high winds Sunday through Monday night will have the potential to down trees and power lines.

Scientists with the National Weather Service were on the ground Friday conducting samples to determine how much water is contained in the snow. They determined that when the snow melts, it will amount to about 3½ to 6 inches.

“I’m just trying to think about where all this water is going to go,” said Asuini. “The water’s got to go somewhere.”

The good news, however, is the ground is not completely frozen, so it should be able to absorb some of the water.

A flood watch starts Sunday afternoon and will continue through Wednesday morning.

Areas near Cayuga, Buffalo, Cazenovia and Ellicott creeks will be the most susceptible. Residents near Tonawanda Creek could see flooding by Tuesday, because that waterway rises slower.

County officials have been urging residents to take the proper precautions, securing their homes and removing valuables from their basements.

The county will have its first briefing of the day at 12 p.m.

The area will see some lake precipitation this afternoon, mostly light freezing rain that could create icy conditions on roadways.

“That could be a big concern,” Asuini said.

Temperatures today will hover in the lower 40s, steadily rising throughout the day. They will not drop much overnight.

Then it will get warmer through Sunday and Monday, with a possible high of 60 on Monday morning.

Meanwhile, businesses and organizations continued to close so residents can focus on digging out, and preparing for the next wave.

St. Mary of the Lake Church in Hamburg cancelled all of its masses for Saturday evening and Sunday. The church is urging its members to stay warm and safe.

Local officials continue to emphasize that there has been significant progress with recovery efforts,

Residents at the Garden Gate Health Care Facility have returned to the facility, which was evacuated earlier this week because of concerns about structural damage. About 170 residents were evacuated.

Facility officials met with structural engineers and the Department of Health and determined there had been no structural damage.

“It was really just a big pre-caution,” said spokeswoman Dawn Harsch of the evacuation.

“After the snow was removed, we were delighted to find there was never any structural damage,” stated Jim McGuire, CEO of The McGuire Group. “The deflection that was caused by the weight of the snow fell well within the design criteria of the building and was reacting as expected due to the weight.”

email: tlankes@buffnews