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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 19, 2007
Storm leaves death in its wake
By Enterprise staff
ALBANY COUNTY When school was closed Monday after a noreaster battered the Hilltowns, 16-year-old Ruby Mosbey didnt take the day off.
A member of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company, she helped a crew pump out the cellar of her own house, which had a half-foot to a foot of water.
Then she spent the next six hours along with her father, Moe Mosbey, helping to pump out others houses.
"They said we had a record, 18 in one day," said Ruby Mosbey with pride in her voice.
Helping others is not new to Mosbey; she’s pitched in since she was 12, said her father. "It just comes natural to her."
She teaches, lifeguards, and took a trip with a church group to Africa to help build an orphanage. Mosbey says shed like to pursue a career in medicine and one day return to Africa to open a clinic. For now, she gets the most satisfaction out of volunteering with the Berne firefighters, and working as part of a team.
But Monday, she faced a challenge she hadnt faced before. Her fire-company crew was called to Westerlo for a search-and-rescue mission.
"We were on standby," said Moseby. "We all heard it over our pagers. We heard it was a 15-year-old female. Up here, our community is so tight-knit; it made me and everybody else worry."
Moseby’s worries were particular. "As a lifeguard," she said, "I know hypothermia can set in before cardiac arrest."
The worst happened: Caitlin Henry was found in the Basic Creek soon after her canoe capsized, but she could not be revived. (See related story.)
"I didn’t know her personally," said Moseby. "I have friends who knew her. I mourn with them. They lost a friend. Our team feels badly."
Moseby was silent for a long moment.
Then she went on, "It’s hard, but you have to look at it"it was an accident."
She praised the crews from Westerlo and Greenville that worked to save Caitlin Henry.
"Although it will always be in your heart that, oh, my god, she died, you realize that the next time," said Ruby Moseby, " you’ll work harder, you’ll do better."
In order to get the states Emergency Management Office to do a preliminary damage assessment, counties have to sign up, a representative of the office said on Tuesday. Since most counties were still in response mode, the office wasnt sure how many would be seeking aid.
Albany County has been in touch with the office and submitted $2.5 million as a preliminary amount of aid. "That’s subject to change," said Michael Perrin, of County Executive Michael Breslin’s office, yesterday. The next step for the county is to set up a meeting and review with the State Emergency Management Office, he said, so that it can assess the damage. Reviews by the state will begin next week, Perrin said; in order to access aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the President has to make a declaration of disaster.
With the Normanskill winding its way through several sections of town, emergency crews and police were busy earlier this week with "pump-out" calls and road closures.
The first emergency call came in at 4 a.m. Monday, and fire and ambulance crews did not park their rigs into station bays until 11 p.m. that evening, according to fire department officials.
Many areas were continually monitored as the creeks rose and pools of water formed, including near the Mill Pond on Western Avenue, Johnston Road, and both ends of Western Avenue near Stuyvesant Plaza and also near the 84 Lumber underpass, said Supervisor Kenneth Runion.
"I believe we had a good response to the storm," Runion said.
Guilderland Fire Chief, Curtis Cox, told The Enterprise that the McKownville Fire Department handled the first call on Monday morning, and that the Fort Hunter Fire Department handled the first Tuesday-morning call.
Townwide, Cox said, the Guilderland fire stations handled 125 calls on Monday and more than 30 calls on Tuesday for "hazardous conditions." Fire departments were still getting pump-out calls as late as yesterday.
"We were getting calls all over the place, and not just from homes in low-lying areas, some of them were up on hills," Cox said.
The fire chief said the amount of water in people’s basements ranged from "one or two inches, up to 14 inches of water."
One home on Siver Road was on a hill and had over 14 inches of water collecting in the basement, Cox said.
Ambulance crews responded to many of the hazardous calls, which is standard operating procedure, according to Cox. Calls for emergency assistance were still coming while The Enterprise talked to the fire chief on Tuesday.
"There were people who told us they never had water in their basements before," Cox said. "A lot of people’s pumps were seized with rust or clogged with debris and were not working properly because they are hardly ever used."
The pumps on a fire truck can only pump water down to one or two inches, said Cox; anything less than that cannot be pumped out by the fire department.
Guilderlands acting police chief, Carol Lawlor, said that the police department had officers working around the clock on Monday due to flooding and road closures.
"We went back to a normal schedule on Tuesday morning," she said. "Things are getting back to normal."
Lawlor said that Johnston Road was closed for more than two days and that there was a "volunteer evacuation" on the road.
"We used the 911 system to ask people to evacuate in low-lying areas because of the rising waters," Lawlor said. There was never a mandatory call for evacuations of the area, she added.
Lawlor said that Johnston Road is now open, but that there are Albany County restrictions on the road because of possible damage from the storm. The countys Department of Public Works announced on Tuesday that sections of Johnston Road, in the towns of Guilderland and New Scotland, will be limited to a speed of 20 miles an hour.
In addition, all vehicles in those areas must have a gross vehicle weight under five tons. Vehicles are currently being detoured over Wormer Road, Route 155, Dr. Shaw Road, and Veeder Road, according to the county notice.
The Guilderland schools open-ed Monday despite the wet and windy weather.
"On Monday, we did have several leaks," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala. He told the school board Tuesday night that the leaks were due to a combination of winds and changing temperatures.
"We had representatives from WeatherGuard checking the roof," said Aidala.
"The custodial staff was busy mopping up," Aidala said and problems were "taken care of" by 9:30 or 10 a.m. as students attended classes.
Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools were closed on Monday after up to a foot of snow fell on Sunday, followed by heavy rain and strong winds. "Your location played a large part of how the storm affected you," said Alan Zuk, the long-time transportation director for the school district. "The higher the elevation, the more significant the storm was to you."
The decision to close the school, Zuk said, was based on the snowfall, which ranged from a half foot to a foot. And, he said, "Some areas had ice accumulated on trees at higher elevations. In some places, the trees were bent over, so that, from both sides of the road, they were almost touching."
He went on, "After we closed, there were problems with rising water and some highways became flooded."
Portions of Canaday Hill, Switzkill, High Point, and Sawmill roads were closed said Town Clerk Patricia Favreau; they are now all open.
Zuk, who has been a member of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company for 30 years, said the last time he could recall such severe storm damage was in January of 1996 when there was rain on top of three or four feet of snow. "The water was higher in ninety-six," he said. "This was not a record but an extreme situation."
David Weiser, the business administrator for BKW, said on Wednesday that the school had sporadic "minor leaks," primarily in the oldest wings of the elementary school, built in the 1930’s.
"It’s in areas where we’ve never had leaks before," he said. "The suspended ceiling prevented major damage."
Some textbooks were damaged, along with paper and art supplies, he said, but the costs have not yet been estimated.
He praised the operations and maintenance staff for working a long day Monday to get the school ready to open on Tuesday.
Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier likewise praised the town’s highway crew for their hard work. "All the guys are out repairing roads," he said, explaining shoulders had eroded.
He also praised the work done by the fire companies pumping out houses, and particularly lauded Ruby Moseby. Crosier attended a breakfast Tuesday morning, hosted by the Guilderland and Bethlehem YMCAs that recognized local students for their contributions to the community; Moseby was one of the BKW students who was honored.
Crosier, an Albany firefighter, said, "I’m going to get her a chance to ride along on an Albany truck."
The fire company in neighboring Knox was just as busy.
Bill Vinson, chief of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company, said Monday afternoon that the firehouse, with about 14 members rotating in shifts, started providing flood relief for town residents at 8 a.m. Monday.
By Monday afternoon, the fire company, using portable pumps, had pumped 11 houses; homes that had flooded had between four inches and six feet of standing water. Each home, Vinson said, took between one-and-a-half and two hours to pump. After firefighters removed floodwaters, he said, homeowners then used their own pumps.
"So far, we haven’t had to go back to the ones we’ve finished," Vinson said Monday afternoon.
The Hilltowns were placed on the countys emergency notice, with Colonie on standby to provide aid.
Vinson said no power outages had been reported in Knox. The Knox Volunteer Fire Company has a generator, but, Vinson said, the building would not be adequate for housing residents without power. Comfortable seating and food is not available, Vinson said.
Gary Salisbury, Knoxs highway superintendent, said minimal damage and few calls had been reported to his department.
Some residents’ culverts had washed out, and the shoulders of some roads had been damaged, Salisbury said. Repairs, he said, will keep the department busy for "a couple of weeks." If disaster relief money becomes available, Salisbury said, the town would "definitely" fall under the guidelines.
Jeff Pine, who lives in Preston Hollow, one of Rensselaerville’s five hamlets, said homes near the Catskill Creek flooded, which is "pretty typical."
Flooding was prevalent in New Scotland this week as heavy snow and rain fell, transforming small streams into gushing rapids.
In Feura Bush, a stream overflowed onto Route 32, re-routing traffic around it.
Douglas LaGrange, a Feura Bush farmer and New Scotland councilman, said that the result was "quite a mess."
LaGrange said that he is lucky his house sits on a hill, and wasnt affected by flooding; the homes of his father and uncle needed to be pumped by the Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company.
The number of homes that Onesquethaw pumped, LaGrange said, "was significant."
LaGrange said that flooding is nothing new to the area. Residents have an attitude of, "Well, here we go again," he said.
"There’s a light at the end of the tunnel," he said, adding that at least it’s not October with the threat of months of nasty weather to come. "It’s springtime."
Fred Spaulding, chief of Onesquethaw Volunteer Fire Company, told The Enterprise that his department received around 20 calls between 5:30 a.m. Monday morning and the same time on Tuesday. Most of those calls, he said, were for pump-outs. The firefighters pumped about 17 or 18 basements.
The water ranged from three or four inches to three or four feet, Spaulding said. Some people needed to be pumped out multiple times, he said.
Onesquethaw had four or five crews running throughout the day, Spaulding said, adding that some crew members took time off from work to help out. Others are retired, and those people, Spaulding said, "were an asset" It was a good influx of people.
"This is a typical major flood," Spaulding said on Wednesday. "We’ve had worse, we’ve had less."
Spaulding’s crew "did a fine job," he said. "The dispatchers did a great job." Spaulding explained that the dispatchers route calls not only to Onesquethaw, but to all the Hilltowns.
The Onesquethaw crew, luckily, did not encounter any injuries, Spaulding said. "We had no injuries" Just some tired firefighters."
LaGrange, his brother, David, his father, Marvin, and his Uncle Ronald, operate a dairy farm that has been in the family for eight generations. They milk 250 cows.
"It’s a big 4-H project," LaGrange joked.
LaGrange told The Enterprise Tuesday that the flooding hadnt really affected the animals much, as they were keeping dry inside the barn, but, it was causing a late start for their crops.
"Normally we’d be out plowing and planting right now," he said. "Last year, we seeded fields with hay on March 31."
If the sun came out, and the wind picked up and the drying conditions became ideal, LaGrange said he might be able to start planting in a week and a half.
"We can’t even touch the fields right now," he said. "We’re probably a half-month behind on hay seeding."
Recovering from this type of a setback is a difficult task, said LaGrange. The price of feed and fuel continues to increase and milk prices are equivalent to those in the 1960s, which is "really detrimental to the bottom line," he said.
Because of flooding last year, LaGrange said his corn production was about half of what it normally would be.
Cows derive most of their energy from corn, whereas most protein is found in hay, LaGrange said. Both crops are crucial to milk production.
"When it comes to the crops, timing is imperative," LaGrange said.
As for the flooding, "A lot of people have it a lot worse," he said. "We’re quite fortunate to be inconvenienced by a little water in the basement."
Jarrett Carroll wrote about Guilderland; Rachel Dutil wrote about New Scotland; Melissa Hale-Spencer wrote about the BKW and Guilderland schools, Berne, and Ruby Moseby, Tyler Schuling wrote about Knox and Rensselaerville; and Saranac Hale Spencer wrote about county funding.
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