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Massive cleanup effort begins in two flood-ravaged counties

MAYVILLE – It was a day to clean up and assess the damages Wednesday in northern Chautauqua County after more than 5 inches of rain in a two-hour period on Tuesday caused significant flooding from Silver Creek to Westfield. 

“It has been quite a time for Chautauqua County,” County Executive Vincent Horrigan said at a press conference in the emergency services building. “While we suffered considerable damage, we don’t have any loss of life.”

He added, “The deluge of rain turns into raging water that has nowhere to go.”

Allegany County also was hammered by the storm as slow-moving thunderstorms passed through Tuesday afternoon, leaving flood-damaged roads that could take up to a month to repair.

Chautauqua County emergency workers started responding to calls early Tuesday morning and worked throughout the day as very heavy rains flooded more than 250 basements, washed out roads, culverts, sewer systems and septic systems.  Three shelters were opened temporarily in Westfield, Brocton and Irving to house residents who abandoned their homes as the waters rose. 

Horrigan said the team of responders included many from the federal level and many volunteers from fire departments in Chautauqua and Erie counties as well as Pennsylvania. 

“It is amazing we had an event with no serious injury or loss of life,” said Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace, who noted about 25 different fire departments were dispatched to supply mutual aid to the hard-hit communities.

Horrigan and State Sen. Catherine Young, R-Olean, toured the northern portion of the county on Wednesday

“It was very eye-opening to be on the ground today to see all the damage,” Young said. 

“I went to see one woman in her home and her house is filled with mud and a lot of items damaged,” she said.

“She has no flood insurance because she is not in a flood plain,” Young said.

The cost of cleanup is being documented by the county emergency services office; officials hope that private and public expenditures for repair and cleanup will be more than the $386,000 threshold for a state disaster declaration. Emergency Services Coordinator Julius Leone said residents are encouraged to call his office with totals of the damage at their property. He said he hopes to have an estimate by Friday.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said there was “an astounding level of response” from first responders and highway crews.

George Spanos, Chautauqua County’s  public facilities director, said three county roads have been closed due to damage from the heavy rains.  Lake Avenue in Brocton suffered the most damage, he said. Also closed are County Route 37 in the Town of Chautauqua, where a new four-foot culvert was just put in, and Kabob Road in Stockton. Spanos said crews are addressing many washouts on the roads and shoulders. 

He said there will be free disposal at the landfill for the next few days, if items are picked up by local municipal crews and brought to the landfill.  

Christine Schuyler, the county’s director of health and human services, expressed concerns over illnesses resulting from the flood waters.  “Our main concern is for drinking water safety and sanitation,” she said.

She noted that there is a water conservation order in Westfield, which is using its storage tanks. The county Health Department hopes to lift the ban on Thursday. 

“We need to assume that all flood waters are contaminated with sewage,” Schuyler said. 

She said any private wells that may have been flooded probably are contaminated and need to be disinfected.

“We are advising that people stay away from creeks and beaches,” Schuyler said.

“Don’t let the kids play in standing water,” she cautioned. Schuyler added the next health problem could be from mosquitoes in the water. 

County Legislator George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said, “There is a tremendous amount of large debris in Lake Erie. The water will be a hazard for a long time.” He urged boaters and other watercraft operators to be cautious. 

In Allegany County, the Swain Resort, a winter sports destination, bore the brunt of the storm.

County Road 24 in the Town of Grove may not reopen for two or three days, according to Jeff Luckey, the county’s director of emergency services. The road is parallel to Ewart Creek, which runs past the hamlet of Swain and the base of the resort.

“Swain has the most infrastructure damage,” Luckey said. “They have to get the one county road back in shape to even get to the town roads.”

Fallen trees and debris wedged against the bridge across from Swain Resort, sending creek water onto County Road 24 and into the resort’s parking lot.

Celeste Schoonover, an owner of Swain Resort, said water got into Mountainside Inn – two buildings housing a total of eight rental units.

“The bottom floor of both of them is completely covered with a couple inches of mud,” she said.

“There was no damage to the resort buildings, as far as the lodge or any our infrastructure,” Schoonover said.

News Staff Reporter Janice L. Habuda contributed to this report.