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'Waterfall out of the toilet' among WNYers' flooding headaches

Wednesday's heavy rains caused countless headaches for Western New Yorkers, but this one might be the biggest: A waterfall out of the toilet.

That was Christine Cook's description of what she woke up to Wednesday morning in her home on Nicholas Drive North in the Town of Tonawanda.

Torrential overnight downpours of 2 to 3 inches flooded roads, snarled the morning commute, stranded cars in streets of waist-high water and pushed sump pumps to their limit, causing havoc in basements across the Northtowns.

For Cook, that meant hearing something unsettling soon after waking at her usual time for work.

"I woke up at 5 this morning and I came downstairs, and literally as I was at the top of my stairs I could hear the water pouring in," said Cook, 26, who has lived in the house for three years with her husband, Josh. "It was a waterfall out of our toilet in our basement. It was so bad.

"Our sump pump was going off, and our backup was going off, and it couldn't keep up, because it was going out just to come back in. ... Our bathroom is destroyed now."

Cook said the sewage backup coming through her basement toilet has been a recurring problem. She called the Town of Tonawanda Wednesday, as she has done in the past.

"Every time I call the town, they come out and say, 'Well, unfortunately, (the sewer is) full and there's nothing we can do. Meanwhile we have to pay to have everything cleaned out," she said. "The town is supposed to be improving our sewer system, so I'm like, where is the money going? It's horrible that they don't do anything and they have nothing out there to help."

When a town worker came to Cook's house, she said, "He's just like, 'Holy cow.' "

"Well, yeah, we're 2 feet under water – it was two hours after it stopped raining, and it was still coming out," Cook said. "I know there was a lot of rain today, but two hours later, three hours later after it stops raining, there should not have been water pouring out of the toilet."

She said the town has recommended a possible option of installing a knife valve, which costs thousands of dollars.

The flooding out of the toilet "finally stopped at about 11 a.m.," Cook happily reported. She and her husband have arranged to have the basement professionally cleaned.

On Fuller Avenue in the City of Tonawanda, residents awoke to water in the basement and their entire street flooded. There was so much water that it turned garbage totes into garbage floats.

"The street was under a foot of water, and it was garbage night, so every garbage tote on the street got flipped over and floated away," said resident Mike O'Connor, 65. "The garbage truck came and they grabbed what they could, but there was still 6 inches of water in the street.

"By 7:30 the water went down, and the whole neighborhood was out cleaning up everybody else's front yards, picking up the garbage and throwing it back in the totes. An hour later they sent the street cleaners and they got the rest. They cleaned up real good."

Garbage totes on Fuller Avenue in the City of Tonawanda became garbage floats Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Mike O'Connor)

O'Connor said that by 11 a.m. it looked like a normal sunny day outside despite the havoc of the morning, when water was over the sidewalk on both sides of the street, "up to the houses," O'Connor said.

He has lived on the street for 40 years, and he said the only other time he's seen flooding like this was 25 years ago.

"The city did all they could with the rain that came down," he said. "The fire department was out at 5 a.m. They did all they could, so no complaints there."

O'Connor has a sump pump equipped with a water alarm, which he heard go off at 5 a.m. He found 6 inches of water in his basement, which he expelled from the house with an additional pump.

"It was just coming in faster than it would pump out," he said of the sump pump.

That was also the case for Matthew Schultz, a City of Tonawanda resident who experienced basement flooding for the first time in 13 years.

"During the night we heard a hard rain and we heard the sump pump go off, and didn't think anything of it," said Shultz, 35, who lives on Virginia Street. "We went back to bed, and woke up to water in the basement and we're like, ahhh, that's not what's supposed to happen."

"The sump pump was just going nonstop," said Schultz, who said he had about an inch of water in the basement but avoided significant damage since his items were elevated on pallets.

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