BROCTON - Heavy rainfall, estimated to be between 2 and 4 inches per hour, caused havoc and evacuations in the Village of Brocton Friday morning.
Chautauqua County's 911 dispatch center began alerting Brocton Fire Department personnel of flooded basements and overflowing banks along creeks and streams shortly after 9 a.m. Friday, according to Brocton Fire Department leader and County Emergency Management Services representative Rick Cole.
"The first call out came in around 9:09 a.m. for Ellicott and Ransom roads, with reports of water and debris across the roadway. That of course is above us here in the village, and eventually flooded basement calls started being dispatched near Bear Lake Road. Eventually, we needed to start evacuating trailers at the lower end of Ellicott Road in Ellicott Estates Trailer Park. We then had to start evacuating up and down Lake Avenue, as well as everyone in the Crestview Estates Trailer Park on Lake Avenue."
The Red Cross was on scene to help assist with evacuating residents who were first housed at the Brocton Fire Hall and eventually relocated by school bus to Brocton Central School. Water was seen rising as high as the incline of South Swede Road in the village and nearly filled the railroad culverts traversing Lake Avenue to their height. Traffic was shut down to parts of Lake Avenue and other sections of village streets Friday as emergency crews dealt with the climbing waters.
Cole and Fire Chief Brian Woleben noted that besides the Red Cross, hazmat, the County Dive Team and fire police as well as Portland Fire Department, Cassadaga, Sunset Bay, Silver Creek and Irving fire and rescue squads were activated and assisted with what was needed. A sluice pipe under a culvert at Mill Street and Route 20 was being monitored by State Department of Transportation crews Friday and a bridge leading to the residence of John and Michael Munger was completely washed away from the roadside.
John Munger, who had just made it over his bridge before it was covered by rapids of Slippery Rock Creek had left to go to the Brocton Post Office at 9:30 a.m. Friday and was gone for about 10 minutes when he returned home to find his bridge covered in water. Traversing the bridge, he took shelter in his home with his five dogs before walking back down his driveway to assess the situation.
"The water just kept coming, and began filling the lower part of our yard. I saw logs, debris and I think even a swing set float by as the water began raging. Even while it was underwater, I noticed that the bridge was still attached, but once the water began to recede, probably about two hours later, that's when it eroded from the roadside and fell away."
Munger, a Portland fireman himself, contacted 911 dispatch approximately three times to report his bridge underwater, and his collapsed gas line at the roadside. He noted he wasn't contacted to evacuate his home and credits fellow Portland Fireman Dave McIntyre with responding to shut off the gas main at the roadside. The third time he contacted dispatch was to alert them to passersby who were stopping along the eroded side of Lake Avenue as he was concerned someone would slip into the still-heightened creek.
While evacuated residents were safely returned to their homes Friday afternoon, about the same time that a village-issued boil water advisory had been lifted, the Mungers remained literally trapped in their home as their bridge was their only open access. An access road through a neighboring grape vineyard that leads to their property was inaccessible at the time of the raging creek waters and doesn't provide clear access as it's overgrown with wooded foliage and brush, according to the couple.
"We're just assessing the situation right now and are glad that we're all safe. We're not entirely sure what to do at this point after being told by our homeowners' insurance company that we're not covered by a flood insurance policy. We're totally open to any suggestions or assistance anyone can give us at this point as we try and figure out what to do," stated John.
According to Cole and Woleben, no injuries were reported during the crisis. Brocton Mayor Dave Hazelton and Streets Department Supervisor Tom Allen both confirmed that there were remarkably no interruptions to village utility services during the flood.
It's estimated that at least six inches of rapidly flowing water can sweep a person away. Cole and Woleben remind residents to be cautious and make common sense decisions in a flood situation such as turning off any electricity to any parts of a flooded structure, not to attempt driving or wading through rising water and to keep away from the edges of rising creeks and streams.
The mayor reported that as of 3 p.m. all village streets were opened to traffic and that the earlier issued boil water advisory had been lifted and was only issued as a precaution and not in response to any water emergencies.