SARANAC LAKE - The water level on Lake Flower dropped by an inch Friday afternoon, though village, county and fire department officials said it was too soon to start celebrating.
Village Sewer Plant Operator Kevin Pratt told the Enterprise at 6 p.m. that the water level at the Lake Flower dam dropped from 38 inches over the dam's spillway to 37 inches over the spillway Friday afternoon.
"Hopefully we're heading in the right direction," Pratt said.
Franklin County Emergency Services Director Ricky Provost said he was "cautiously optimistic" that the lake appeared to be stabilizing, though he couldn't confirm that it had dropped an inch.
"I don't think we've had enough time to address things and see it decline for a period of time to confirm that for sure that it's going down," he said Friday evening. "We will get something out immediately in the morning if we can confirm that this thing is going down."
Provost said he was being cautious because the water level upstream, at the state Department of Environmental Conservation lock on Middle Saranac Lake, hadn't come down.
As they had done Wednesday and Thursday, crews of firefighters, village and town employees, DEC workers, high school students and other volunteers spent much of Friday filling sandbags and placing them at properties along the lake and river. The village's massive, newly built salt-sand storage shed was turned into a sandbagging factory that had already produced 8,000 units.
"We're going to keep cranking them out," said village DPW worker Shawn White. "We're on emergency standby for the next 24 hours. Any volunteers we can get are appreciated."
Caper Tissot was one of numerous civilian volunteers working sandbag detail.
"People are upbeat, laughing and smiling right through their back pain because these bags are heavy to carry," she said. "But everybody has a great attitude. It reaffirms the community spirit of the area."
Despite all the sandbagging and water pumping, the spreading lake and surging river had already gotten into numerous homes and businesses, forcing some people to evacuate.
On Dorsey Street, Chris Gordon and his roommate made the decision to get out of their first-floor apartment Friday afternoon.
"We have like 6 feet of water in our basement right now," Gordon said. "It comes right up to the doors. Basically, tonight I'm going to get all my expensive things out in case the water comes up more. We're not staying here."
Gordon said he would be staying with friends. Provost said several evacuees had moved into the American Red Cross shelter that had been set up in the First United Methodist Church.
The apartment buildings and homes on Dorsey Street and in other locations that had been evacuated were marked on the outside with an "E" made out of red tape. Buildings where the power was cut were given a "P."
Along the river, the water was three feet deep in the lower dining area of the former Dew Drop Inn. Ed Dukett, who owns the building, said he's never seen the water that high. He blamed the village for not letting more water out of the dam earlier.
"They didn't open that dam till Monday night and it should have been opened on Friday," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the village was in for some lawsuits. You got to control that dam. A month ago the river was way down. They could have opened it a few inches and drained some of it off, but they didn't do it."
But Pratt said village officials "absolutely saw it coming."
"I had a plan with village Manager John Sweeney," Pratt said. "John and I talked about it back in February when we had all the snow. He said 'Do you think we should drop it down when we see this coming?' I said "Absolutely, we're going to. That's the plan.'
"Two weeks ago the spillway was at 4 inches over the spillway, which is where we try to maintain it. When this hit, it raised it up to 22 inches over spillway almost overnight. We pulled it back down to 16 inches. We're trying to maintain the balance of the lake and the river. Yes we were prepared for it and we did everything we can, it's just a lot of water."
Further downstream, people were driving by and taking pictures of the several feet of water being held back by sandbags in the parking lot of the Warehouse shopping plaza on Woodruff Street.
"We've got lookie loos, big time," said Jim Minnie of Onsite Computer Service, one of two businesses in the plaza impacted by the flooding. "People who have lived in Saranac Lake all their life don't know where Woodruff Street is. Now everybody knows where Woodruff Street is."
Minnie said he was "double-whammied" by the flooding. Not only has it threatened his business, he was also forced to evacuate his apartment at 24 Broadway when the power had to be cut because several feet of water were in the building's basement. But he seemed to be taking it all in stride while standing outside his business Friday.
"There's no real significant damage," Minnie said. "This is an inconvenience more than anything else. At this point, as long as everything holds together and nobody gets hurt - it could be a lot worse."