State of emergency declared for Saranac Lake as flooding begins

Jeannie Gallagher and Nikki Wilcox walk Gallagher’s two dogs, Mandi and Elsa, by the Saranac River next to Scott’s Florist on Woodruff Street in Saranac Lake Thursday. Gallagher said her dogs are used to walking there without getting their feet wet. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

SARANAC LAKE — The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for the Saranac Lake area late Thursday afternoon, around the same time Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that this village is under a state of emergency due to potential flooding on the Saranac River and other water bodies.

River levels have been high, and rain is forecast through Friday night, according to the NWS.

The NWS’s flood warning is for southeastern Franklin County and northwestern Essex County — the Saranac Lake area — around 4:30 p.m.

“At 425 PM EDT, emergency management officials reported flooding in the village of Saranac Lake,” a NWS email alert said. “There are several homes and businesses being impacted by high water. Additional rainfall will cause further issues. Some locations that will experience flooding include…Saranac Lake, Wawbeek, Lake Clear, Saranac Inn, Ray Brook, Lake Colby, Franklin Falls and Bloomingdale. Additional rainfall amounts of around an inch are possible in the warned area over the next thirty six hours. Water levels on Lake Flower are very high, and flooding is occurring downstream through Saranac Lake village and along the Saranac River.”

The NWS alert added a warning: “Turn around, don’t drown when encountering flooded roads. Most flood deaths occur in vehicles. A Flood Warning means that flooding is imminent or occurring. All interested parties should take necessary precautions immediately.”

Scott’s Florist on Woodruff Street, Saranac Lake, saw the water line creep up past the potted plants on the Saranac River bank Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

The emergency declaration allows the state’s Office of Emergency Management to deploy resources to Saranac Lake. So far these include 5,000 sandbags, a sandbagging machine and a 200-foot Aquadam temporary damming system, according to the governor’s press release.

“It’s more precautionary than anything,” village Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Dora said of the declaration. “We’re kind of at that edge. It’s better to have it and be prepared … because we can get more resources from the state.”

Village Manager John Sweeney said there is some flooding above and below the village’s Main Street dam. Overall it’s minor, he said, but he added that it’s not minor to those who have water coming into their buildings. These include Gauthier’s Saranac Lake Inn, Fiddlehead Bistro, the former Dew Drop Inn, the Broadway building that houses Main Street Exchange and the coin wash plaza on Woodruff Street.

Also, he said, “Above Duprey Street there are some areas where it’s in people’s lawns.”

The river is running at 22 inches over the village dam’s spillway, 3 inches higher than Tuesday. The village keeps opening the floodgates, in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Conservation that manages the Lower Locks upstream above Oseetah Lake. Right now, Sweeney said, the flow through the gates is between 1,300 and 1,400 cubic feet per second.

“About a week ago we were 400-ish,” he said.

“Downstream the river is literally at its edges. It’s coming out at a couple spots.”

In addition to the DEC, Sweeney said he has been communicating with the downstream town of St. Armand, the village fire department, both Essex and Franklin counties, the National Weather Service and, starting Thursday, the state Office of Emergency Management.

He said the NWS is predicting between three-quarters of an inch to an inch of rain to fall by Friday night.

“That’s not going to help us,” he said.

He’s also personally checking key points for flooding, including the Saranac lakes which feed the river. What he sees is not encouraging. Thursday morning he went out to Bartlett Carry between Upper and Middle Saranac lakes, where he could see that “the water is just flowing out of the mountains.”

“As the cold weather fades, we expect to see spring flooding from snow melt and rain,” Cuomo said in his office’s press release. “While we are prepared and stand ready with resources to respond in communities in need, I encourage anyone who lives in areas prone to flooding to take any precautions necessary before flooding occurs and heed any warnings from local officials should conditions worsen.”

Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said in the press release, “On behalf of the entire Saranac Lake community, I thank Governor Cuomo for his unyielding support and resources in combatting extreme weather. As we prepare for potential flooding, I urge all residents to remain vigilant and take any added precautions necessary to stay safe.”

Flood preparation safety tips

From the governor’s office

¯ Learn the safest route from your home or business to high, safe ground should you have to leave in a hurry.

¯ Develop and practice a ‘family escape’ plan and identify a meeting place if family members become separated.

¯ Make an itemized list — as well as potentially photo and video documentation — of all valuables including furnishings, clothing and other personal property. Keep the list in a safe place.

¯ Stockpile emergency supplies of canned food, medicine and first aid supplies and drinking water. Store drinking water in clean, closed containers.

¯ Plan what to do with your pets.

¯ Have a portable radio, flashlights, extra batteries and emergency cooking equipment available.

¯ Keep your automobile fueled. If electric power is cut off, gasoline stations may not be able to pump fuel for several days. Have a small disaster supply kit in the trunk of your car.

¯ Find out how many feet your property is above and below possible flood levels. When predicted flood levels are broadcast, you can determine if you may be flooded.

¯ Keep materials like sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber handy for emergency water-proofing.

¯ Check on your insurance coverage. Homeowners’ insurance policies generally do not cover flood damages. Only flood insurance can protect your home against flood damages. You can purchase flood insurance whether or not you live in a mapped flood zone.

Travel with care during flooding

¯ Leave early to avoid being marooned on flooded roads.

¯ Make sure you have enough fuel for your car.

¯ Follow recommended routes. DO NOT sightsee.

¯ As you travel, monitor NOAA Weather Radio and local radio broadcasts for the latest information.

¯ Watch for washed-out roads, earth-slides, broken water or sewer mains, loose or downed electrical wires, and falling or fallen objects.

¯ Watch for areas where rivers or streams may suddenly rise and flood, such as highway dips, bridges, and low areas.

¯ DO NOT attempt to drive over a flooded road. Turn around and go another way.

¯ DO NOT underestimate the destructive power of fast-moving water. Two feet of fast-moving flood water will float your car. Water moving at two miles per hour can sweep cars off a road or bridge.

¯ If you are in your car and water begins to rise rapidly around you, abandon the vehicle immediately.