September 28, 2021

Moravia cleans up after rains cause record flooding

Kevin Conlon/city editor

Rit Gallucci, of Moravia, pulls debris from Owasco Lake outside his cottage Thursday after more heavy rains passed through the area overnight.

MORAVIA — The flat land stretches along the southwest corner of Owasco Lake in Moravia, with fewer than two dozen cottages along a narrow road separating them from a steep hillside.

An array of fish and fowl frequent the area, including eagles, heron, osprey and diving ducks, said Beth Bement, looking over the lake from the cottage she shares with William Martin. The shallow water is perfect for children to swim and discourages more disruptive jet skis and fast boats.

“This is a very peaceful, quiet … neck of the woods,” Bement said Thursday afternoon.

Hours earlier, the idyllic scene was disrupted by flash floods that passed through the area.

Bement said she went out about 5:40 a.m. to check on a creek that passes nearby, carrying water down the hillside and under South East on Owasco Road on the way to the lake. She removed debris to keep the narrow channel clear with Martin’s assistance.

The Owasco Lake inlet, near their cottage and the village of Moravia, broke flood records early Thursday morning following a second night of heavy rains. Water levels rose to 10.57 feet, more than 2 feet above flood stage and nearing the record of 10.73 feet set on July 1, 2017, said Jake Chalupsky, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service at Binghamton.

“That whole area near the inlet received anywhere from 3 to 5 inches of rain that night,” Chalupsky said.

That was 24 hours after parts of Cayuga and Cortland County saw up to 5 inches of rain, bringing flash floods to Preble, Scott and Tully in Onondaga County.

“So any kind of stream or creek there was definitely going to be near flood stage,” Chalupsky said. “The rain is tapering off a lot, so those levels are coming down but it all depends on where floodwaters are flowing to, as to how long it takes to get back down to below flood stage.”

‘THE BANKS ARE NOW GOING DOWN’

Moravia Mayor Gary Mulvaney said the flooding first began around midnight Wednesday and early Thursday morning. Later that morning the streets needed to be cleared of debris.

“The banks are now going down — just taking a little bit longer than we hoped,” Mulvaney said Thursday afternoon.

Even as the water receded, there was a lot of clean-up to be done, he added. “There was just so much
debris that comes down from the hills, with mud, rocks and tree limbs.”

Bement and Martin, who own two cottages on the road and a home in Lansing, and their neighbors, Rit and Jeri Gallucci, who own two cottages on the road and a home in Ithaca, were cleaning that debris Thursday afternoon.

“It’s never been this high,” Rit Gallucci, who has lived on the lake for 13 years, said of the water level.

Bement and Martin pulled sections of a neighbor’s dock out of the water to protect it and moved a few small boats that were dislodged by the flooding.

“There were boats all over the place,” Martin said.

Bement said she and Martin, who have owned property on South East on Owasco Road for five years, secured a few boats belonging to neighbors.

“We watched that come down the lake,” Bement said, pointing to a yellow outrigger along the shoreline in the distance.

Cayuga County lifted a travel advisory Thursday afternoon, but officials encouraged motorists to use caution when traveling through areas with debris and avoid driving across water-covered roads.

The village’s emergency crews spent the morning clearing the roads and pumping water out of residents’ basements.

“There were quite a few homes that had problems in their cellars, so the fire department went around and helped them pump the water out,” Mulvaney said. Many of those residents use their basements as their laundry room or storage. “I don’t know the value or how much that was ruined yet, it’s all happened just in the past 12 hours or so.”

Another challenge the village faced was the threat of the sewage treatment plant being flooded.

“It wasn’t underwater, though, because our treatment plant is actually very high — so we’re lucky there,” Mulvaney said. “But you couldn’t drive a car, so our guys walked in this morning and they’ve been using their backhoe to get around.”

TULLY IN TATTERS

In Tully, the village’s wastewater treatment plant was not so lucky.

“We had fire crews out pumping water away from the plant, from the lawn, as far away from the doors as possible,” Mayor Melissa Flint-Morgan said in a Facebook video post Thursday morning. “They did a great job and our DPW crew stayed up all night working on that, so it was a really great effort by everyone.”

Still, more rain kept the creek flooded, and Flint-Morgan said the village would keep the state of emergency in effect until today, in case of any surprise downpours.

“We’re hoping that the (treatment) plant is not inundated with water — I don’t think it will be, I hope everyone is getting out OK,” she said. Residents were told they could start using their tap water, toilets and washing machines again now that the wastewater treatment plant was mostly cleared up.

As the village of Tully cleans up and residents hope to stay dry, the weather forecast shows signs of scattered showers for the next few days, reports the National Weather Service at Binghamton.

“The remnants of Tropical Storm Fred are slowly but surely moving off to the east, but there’s going to be some scattered rain showers on the backside of it, with some thunderstorms Friday afternoon,”
Chalupsky said.

A second tropical storm, called Henri, is making its way up from North Carolina but is expected to stay as far east as the Catskills.

Although Cortland County may be safe from heavy rain, residents should still be wary of smaller streams and creeks flooding, Chalupsky said.

“The Tioughnioga River in Cortland is currently in minor flood stage, so we’re watching that,” Chalupsky said Thursday. “At a minor flood stage, any low-lying areas that are prone to flooding will almost definitely flood, so anyone living around any creeks or rivers should be on their toes.”


Roads remain closed
Song Mountain Road in Preble and Kellogg Road in Cortlandville remained closed Thursday after flash floods Tuesday night and Wednesday morning following up to 5 inches of rain Cortland County officials reported.

County Highway Department workers were still cleaning and evaluating roads on Thursday. The county warned of rising water levels, but the National Weather Service reported the Tioughnioga River in Cortland was cresting about 5 p.m. Thursday at 9.7 feet, about 1.7 feet above flood stage.