AuSABLE FORKS - On Sunday, Michael Bowen stayed in his home on Sheldrake Road, across from the AuSable River's East Branch, until the waters of the rising river started to cross the street.
Bowen left and stayed with his sister-in-law, expecting the flooding to be similar to that he experienced earlier this spring, when the water got into his basement. Instead, his basement was flooded to the ceiling, and the water was "up to my waist, all through the whole first floor," he told reporters in front of his home Tuesday morning.
"When the water started coming down Main Street, we knew," Bowen said.
Stickney Bridge, which crosses the East Branch of the AuSable River in the town of Jay and connects Stickney Bridge Road to state Route 9N, was made impassable by Sunday’s flooding, and the section of road connecting it to Route 9N was destroyed.
(Enterprise photo — Nathan Brown)
Other homeowners in the neighborhood, which is across the Jersey Bridge from downtown AuSable Forks, told similar stories about Sunday's flooding, caused by the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Irene. The river was 22 feet above flood stage at its peak.
Tracey Hart, who lives a couple of blocks from the river on Burt Lane, said there was more than 5-and-a-half feet of water in his first floor, ruining everything in it.
"I've never seen water that high," said Tony Deyoe, who was gutting his house on Broad Lane Tuesday morning. "It was literally by the bottom of the windows."
Along the sidewalk, people's lawns throughout the neighborhood were piled with soggy furniture and personal items, and bags of trash. People worked to clean out their homes Tuesday morning as public works crews tore up the pavement on Broad Lane, which was badly damaged by the flooding. Meanwhile, a crew of inmates from Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility did cleanup work on Burt Lane.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, toured AuSable Forks Tuesday morning, accompanied by Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas and, for part of the tour, Black Brook town Supervisor Ricky Nolan.
"You look around us, (and) see water that's 6 or 8 feet high coming into people's homes," Owens said. "It's devastating."
Owens said Tuesday morning that he thinks the chances for federal individual assistance aid are higher now than they were after the flooding in late April, when the federal government agreed to provide aid to help municipalities repair infrastructure but not to individuals. New York's chances of aid are based on the number of people impacted, and more populated areas saw more damage from Irene.
The federal government also has a program to buy properties in flood-prone areas. Several people said Tuesday they would consider this.
"We can't do this every few years," Bowen said.
Deyoe said he wouldn't take a buyout.
"I've been here seven years," he said. "I love living here. It's quiet, it's peaceful. There's a lot of people had it much worse than I did."
Douglas said he has had a lot of people ask him about the federal buyout program. He said he understands and would support people who want to do it, but at the same time, he worries about the town losing population and its community identity.
"There are people that (for) generations and generations have lived here," Douglas said. "They've raised their families here. ... Now, all of a sudden, they're gone."
The supervisor said this as he stood at the ruined youth athletic fields on Grove Road, a site where there were houses until the owners took buyouts in 1998. The fields, which the towns of Jay and Black Brook both use, had about $4 million invested in them, Douglas said.
State Route 9N lost large chunks of its shoulder due to the flooding between Jay and AuSable Forks. The road surface on Stickney Bridge, which runs across the East Branch and connects 9N to Stickney Bridge Road, was ruined, and the bit of road connecting the bridge to 9N was torn into pieces, so people who live on the east side of the river and used the bridge to leave need to take back roads now. Route 9N is still impassable between Upper Jay and Keene.
The Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay lost about a third of its collection of 10,000 books due to the flood, according to library board President Marie-Anne Azar Ward.
"It's enormous," she said. "We're not going to be able to open for some time."
Ward said the library needs volunteers to help with the cleanup. She asked people not to make donations for now, since there's no place to put them.
The river also flowed through Upper Jay's firehouse, over Route 9N and completely raized the former Land of Makebelieve, one of America's first theme parks, according to North Country Public Radio.
On the Black Brook side of AuSable Forks, the flooding exacerbated an existing problem some Palmer Street residents had with water entering their basements, Nolan said.
Palmer Brook runs through Randy Whisher's front yard. When the water surged Sunday, it took most of the yard with it, leaving a large stone-piled area and a jagged crack in the ground between the brook and his house.
Whisher said he doesn't need any government help to rebuild.
"The town has been great," Whisher said. "Everybody's been helpful. The people in the Jersey area need a lot more than I do. Their houses are gone. ... It's OK. We'll be fine. People in the North Country are resilient."