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River surge is storm's biggest impact locally

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Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 12:00 am

GREENE COUNTY — While other areas of the state and region battled high winds, heavy rains, downed power lines and even fire, locally the biggest problems from Hurricane Sandy revolved around the Hudson River, especially at high tide.

The river’s coastal surge, which peaked at around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, brought with it rushing water that closed roads, flooded basements and businesses, and dumped piles of river debris throughout Athens and Coxsackie.

There were virtually no reports of power outages in the two riverside communities – with the exception of the Athens Volunteer Fire Department, which briefly lost power on Monday afternoon and kicked on their generator — and the rain and winds were nowhere near as powerful as what happened downstate in New York City and elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard, but the river posed the biggest problem locally.

Homes and businesses were flooded, particularly in the Village of Athens, where the sewer plant also took on water.

In Coxsackie, crews and officials worked throughout the night battling the surging river waters.

“It was a long night,” Coxsackie Mayor Mark Evans said. “At 4 p.m. on Monday there was high tide and water came into the parking lot at Riverside Park. We knew that based on rainfall and other factors, like water being released from the dams, the full moon and the high tide, there would be issues. The fire department was ready and the shelter was ready to open if we needed it.”

Police patrols worked through the night monitoring the situation throughout the village, and especially neighborhoods along the river. In the early morning hours, the village’s Code Red emergency notification system kicked into gear.

“At about 2:15 in the morning they alerted me and I did a Code Red for S. River, Hamilton and Franklin Streets, letting residents know the water was coming up and that they should get to higher ground,” Evans said.

In fact, Evans said the river surge was higher this time around than during Hurricane Irene last year. At the surge’s height, water came up as high as Reed Street, within inches of flooding the National Bank of Coxsackie.

The river was so chaotic that docks from elsewhere – no one locally knows where they originated from – came floating down the river and landed on S. River Street. A backhoe had to move them out of the way so they no longer blocked the road.

The Town of Coxsackie fared a little better in the storm.

“In the town we were pretty fortunate that we didn’t feel the full effects of the storm,” Town Supervisor Alex Betke said. “Our highway crews were out and our volunteer firefighters were at the ready. We had some trees down and some roads were out, mostly along the river, like Four Mile Point Road and Greene Bedell Road.

In Athens, the situation was pretty much the same – serious flooding in neighborhoods along the river, with water rushing into homes and local businesses. Stewart’s Shops on Route 385 experienced flooding, and Dionysos Restaurant, with its proximity to the river, had a foot or more of water in it.

“This was worse than Hurricane Irene, with the coastal surge,” Athens Mayor Andrea Smallwood said Tuesday morning. “Water Street is flooded and the sewer plant is flooded. We have been sandbagging all night and waiting to see what happens with the next surge, which will be at high tide this afternoon.”

The village had no reports of power outages or major problems with downed trees, though the fire department lost power for roughly 45 minutes and had to rely on its backup generator to keep the lights on.

The biggest problem in both riverside communities stemmed from the Hudson River and the surge that came with the storm.

“It was surprising how high it was compared to Hurricane Irene,” Smallwood said. “We think the full moon and the wind had something to do with it.”

On Tuesday lots of river debris could be seen throughout the village, brought by the surging waters.

The storm also sent kids from the Coxsackie-Athens Central School District home early on Monday, and a state of emergency declared by Greene County Legislature Chairman Wayne Speenburgh meant school doors were also shuttered on Tuesday.

Countywide, Central Hudson reported 1,032 power outages, mostly in the towns of New Baltimore, Hunter and Jewett.

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