Matt Swayze and his family struggled Tuesday night to divert a torrent of water heading toward their Song Mountain Road house in Preble as a storm dumped 5 inches of rain on northern Cortland County, causing flash floods.
“The hillside sediment slid down and blocked the creek on the other side and the water jumped the road,” Swayze said early Wednesday afternoon as he and his son, Jed, 18, watched a Cortland
County Highway Department crew widen a ditch outside their house to guard against potential flooding as more storms were expected later in the day and into today.
Tropical Storm Fred is moving its way through Pennsylvania and moisture from the storm is leading to heavy rainfall across upstate New York.
Minor flooding of the Tioughnioga River at Cortland was expected Wednesday night, the National Weather Service reported.
The river was expected to crest this afternoon at 9 1/2 feet, 18 inches above flood stage. Showers and thunderstorms have been forecast through Tuesday, although with decreasing likelihood as time goes on.
The Swayze family moved Matt Swayze’s pickup truck and used plywood and later hay bales to change the course of the water. They dug a soil berm by hand to move the water into a smaller ditch on their side of Song Mountain Road.
Matt said his wife, Laura, first noticed the water had crossed the road when she took their dog for a walk in the yard about 9 or 9:30 p.m.
“It was like a sheet of water coming toward the house,” he recalled.
A little water entered a basement bedroom, but did not cause significant damage, Matt Swayze said.
The Swayzes, including daughter Alyssa, 14, and Matt’s cousin, Jeff Van Patton, who owns a farm across the road, worked until about 1 a.m. Wednesday to keep the water out of the house.
“I stayed up watching it until 4,” Matt Swayze said.
Tree-trimming crews worked farther uphill on Song Mountain Road under contract for National Grid Corp, said National Grid arborist Jim Maloney, who estimated they would be working in the area for a week to clear the damaged trees near power lines.
He pointed to the hillside that collapsed, sending water toward the Swayze house down the hill.
Similar flooding occurred Tuesday night in the village of Tully, including the wastewater treatment plant. Mayor Melissa Flint-Morgan declared a state of emergency until further notice.
“We were almost waist-deep in muddy overflowing creek water tonight, but everyone came together and did an excellent job at keeping the (treatment) plant alive,” Flint-Morgan wrote in a Facebook post. “These next few days are crucial as we are expecting a lot more rain.”
She asked village residents to use their showers and toilets sparingly, to reduce the stress on the wastewater system, and warned them to check their pumps, fuel their generators and prepare basic food and water rations as flash-flood watches remain in effect.
Culverts clogged and water spilled across roadways in many areas as rainwater poured down hillsides into the valley, said Preble Fire Chief Nick Casterline.
The Preble Fire Department received its first call for assistance about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday. Four hours later, Casterline said, he and fellow firefighters helped homeowners along Route 11, which was closed for a time because water had spilled across the road.
“I don’t even know the number of calls for tonight,” he said. The rain, he said, was “hard, fast and furious … for an extended period of time.”
“It’s been several years since I’ve seen it flooded like this,” Casterline said. “The town won’t know the extent of the damage until morning.”
Song Mountain Road was closed to all but local traffic, the Cortland County Highway Department announced Wednesday morning.
The county Highway Department and emergency workers were continuing to clean up the debris and assess the damage Wednesday.
Kevin Conlon/city editor
A Cortland County Highway Department worker clears a ditch Wednesday along Song Mountain Road in Preble to protect a nearby house.
The flooding began in the northwest section of town and spread from there, Casterline said.
The McGraw Fire Department was called to assist and the Tully Fire Department helped for a time, Casterline said.
Casterline climbed into the cab of a white Preble fire truck parked outside at 12:47 a.m. Wednesday. The truck’s headlights illuminated the wet asphalt as he drove alone to yet another call.
As a light rain fell outside the Preble Fire Station on Preble Road, Casterline said he was worried about additional heavy rain — the National Weather Service at Binghamton issued a flash flood watch through 8 a.m. today. Casterline wasn’t sure when the rain would arrive.
“I’m not a meteorologist,” he said. “I deal with the repercussions.”
Staff Reporter Valerie Puma contributed to this report.