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'It was like a hurricane.' Canandaigua residents caught off guard as torrential rain triggers severe

CANANDAIGUA, NY − Within an hour after heavy rains bombarded the Canandaigua area Sunday afternoon, water in the street came up to Maria Bucci’s waist. 

Soon enough, the basement of her West Gibson Street home – and those of many other homes in the city neighborhood – was flooded and several homeowners had to be evacuated. In Bucci's case, she was taken by raft to to her car, which had been moved to higher ground earlier. 

“I know people on my street who have lost vehicles and lots of other stuff. This was just such a significant event,” Bucci said. “It took us all by surprise even though we’ve had a lot of water in the basement over the years.” 

Ontario County Administrator Chris DeBolt said 5.8 inches of rain was measured at the Canandaigua Airport during the storm overall, with just over 3.8 inches falling in one 45-minute period. That amount of rain in a 24-hour period is considered a 100-year storm; this amount occurred in a 3-hour period, according to Kevin Olvany, watershed manager of the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Council.

"We use the word 'unprecedented' a lot," Canandaigua Town Supervisor Jared Simpson said during an emergency Town Board meeting Monday morning. "That certainly was unprecedented."

The overall impact of the storm has yet to be determined. Much work remains to be done in the days and weeks ahead.

“We still do not have our arms around how significant, how widespread the damage is,” DeBolt said. 

Residents feel the brunt of rainstorm

Town Manager Doug Finch said Monday morning that flood waters were beginning to recede, but that wasn't the story late Sunday afternoon and into the evening.

"No one expected that much water that quickly," said Finch , who noted that many town residents were evacuated from their homes including nine people from the Happiness House, which offers programs and services for children and adults with disabilities, and their families, in Ontario, Seneca, Yates, and Wayne counties.

Kevin Donnelly arrived to his West Gibson Street home Sunday after a trip out of town -- “Getting here was a bear on its own,” he said -- and found 4 feet of water coming up to his house and saw rafts carrying people away from the flooded area. 

“It was like a hurricane,” Donnelly said. “The amount of water flowing was just incredible.” 

George Inslee said his backyard just down the street from Donnelly was totally underwater and he had 5 feet of water in his basement and nearly 2 feet in his garage. 

As a result, he lost a new dryer, a washer, and his woodworking tools – and worse, water was still coming into his basement Monday morning, several hours after the storm had passed. 

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” Inslee said.  

The Bucci family had two pumps going, but they couldn’t keep up with the pace of the water entering their home. Soon, the washer and dryer were floating and the Buccis prepared to move items from their first floor to protect against the rising waters. 

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Bucci said. “I knew we were going to have water in the basement and water in our yard, but I never expected to have a basement completely submerged.” 

Although sections of Canandaigua seemed to be hit hardest by the storm, firefighters were called to Stone Hedge Village townhouses in Farmington. 

Farmington Fire Chief John Weidenborner said crews found a collapsed wall in one of the units but were unable to assess further damage because the basement had flooded. 

In all, residents in six units were evacuated, he said. 

Ontario County Sheriff David Cirencione said that from 3:30 p.m. Sunday to midnight, 161 calls for fire assistance were made, 41 for emergency medical services, 151 for county law enforcement and 63 for city police services. 

An electrical worker was injured and taken to Strong Memorial Hospital early on, but the person was conscious, Cirencione said. 

That person's condition was not known as of Monday morning.

"Our hearts go out to those who are displaced as part of this storm (and) who have suffered damage as part of this storm," Simpson said.

Next steps

They and others also had to be evacuated from their homes, many of which either lost power or the power was asked to be turned off by emergency responders.

Fire, town and city and other emergency crews were planning to go door-to-door Monday in heavily hit areas to check on people as well as the integrity of homes and buildings, according to Canandaigua Mayor Bob Palumbo. The residences have to be inspected before power is restored, so no immediate timetable on when residents can expect services was available.

"We definitely want to get that done as soon as possible," Palumbo said.

Simpson said attempts will be made to seek out emergency funding to address damage and other issues that may arise during cleanup.

All county and town roads were opened as of 9:30 a.m. Monday, although some streets within the city were expected to be closed on an intermittent basis. All drivers are urged to be cautious as debris may remain and some roadways have incurred damage, especially along the shoulders, according to sheriff’s deputies. 

Highway crews will be out to assess short- and longer-term damage, although DeBolt said he does not see significant damage that will require any amount of time to repair.

"No prolonged disruption to the transportation network at this time," DeBolt said.

Immediate impacts

The town of Canandaigua's Richard P. Outhouse Memorial Park, which sustained extensive flood damage, will remain closed indefinitely and the Music in the Parks scheduled there for Wednesday will be postponed, with the hope of holding it by the end of the summer. A hiking advisory is in place for the gorge trail in the upland area of Onanda Park.

The Kershaw Park and Deep Run Park swim beaches were closed Monday, although beaches at the town of Canandaigua Onanda Park and West Lake Schoolhouse Park were to remain open. Residents on Canandaigua Lake are urged to use caution and common sense when it comes to swimming. Olvany said water samples will be taken at swim beaches.

Cirencione said he expects boat traffic on Canandaigua Lake to pick up in the days ahead with the coming of hot weather, and urged caution as deputies on Monday were pulling debris from the water.

Teamwork in times of duress

Municipalities − including those from neighboring communities not hit by the storm − the state, fire, police and other emergency crews worked together, into the evening Sunday and early morning hours Monday. Many were volunteering their time. The Zion Fellowship Church in Canandaigua offered up its facility to those displaced by the flooding.

Their quick actions in making public safety the number-one priority and teamwork was "heartwarming" to see, said state Sen. Pam Helming, who is a former Canandaigua town supervisor.

"Hats off to everybody pitching in," Finch said.

Ontario County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Campbell, who is West Bloomfield town supervisor, said that level of teamwork will continue in the days and weeks ahead.

"We're here to help and support you," Campbell said.


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