Yates County Flood–The Event

PY Flood Parking LotOn the night of May 13-May 14 a flash flood  covered Yates County with nine inches of water. I live in Penn Yan, which is is a valley at the northern tip of Keuka Lake. The rain found its path to the many streams, including the ones that flow through the village to the lake. I live on Elm Street, behind my back yard is a wetland that transforms  firm land to the Keuka Lake Outlet, which empties Keuka Lake waters into Seneca Lake.  A street (Burns Terrace) meets Route 54A right in front of my house.


In Spring water normally comes down Burns Terrace and ends up in my basement. My sump pump usually takes care of that headache. On May 13, around 11 PM, a fireman knocked on my door to tell me that “Sucker Brook (four houses up street from my house) broke. Your basement will be flooded.”


The firemen placed sandbags in front of our houses. When that didn’t stop the water, the municipal workers place gravel between the street and the sidewalk. That helped, but didn’t stop the water. They also turn off the street lighting and power to the houses.


We have four front porch steps, and the porch sits about 2 inches above the fourth step. When the water got above the third step, and my neighbor began to sweep the water off of his porch, my wife and I decided that we should begin to pack things incase we had to leave. I put important papers and family photographs upstairs.


The water went about half way up the third step before it began to recede. Although we realized our living quarters were going to be spared, we had almost four feet of water in the basement.  After things died down, I heard a machine making a loud noise. I thought it was a neighbor’s generator, but I found out  it was the firemen pumping his basement. Mine was going to be next. We got done pumping at my house at 5 AM.


What I knew about floods I learned from the news, science classes, Hurricane Agnes in ’72  when I helped a  friend empty his house in Corning and Johnny Cash’s song, “5 Feet High and Raising”.

I really didn’t know the process to start to get back to normal. I do now. We still had an inch or so of water on the cellar floor, which had to be removed before an electrician would  check my electric circuit breaker panel. Wednesday morning NYSEG locked my gas off. Wednesday evening I was able to get electricity to my sump pump through an extension cord from my neighbor. While the sump pump was pumping, I unplugged the washer, dryer, and freezer, and turned the circuit breaker completely off—making sure the hot water heater and furnace was not ‘live’.  An Electric Inspector declared that my panel needed to be replaced. On Thursday I got on an electrician’s list. He got to my house Friday and replaced the circuit breaker panel.  We then had electricity–lights, television, radio, internet, and phones (we could charge our cell phones)! We had electricity, but not hot water nor heat.


My plumber called on Saturday and confirmed I was on his list—-he would get to me on Sunday or Monday. It was Monday. He was able to clean the elements of the Hot Water Heater, and it works (at least for now). The furnace was dead. Well, at least we had hot water. The plumber would be able to replaced the furnace, but couldn’t guaranteed when.


I was fortunate. Yes, I complained that it took almost a week to get the electricity back, and I still didn’t have heat, but people in other parts of the Village lost their houses completely. A parking lot caved in along with a former recreation center. Businesses, especially restaurants in the downtown area were badly hurt. My niece and her husband own the Penn Yan Diner. Their daughter made a youtube video showing pictures of the Diner’s damage with a radio interview narration. Other parts of the county also had major damage, especially areas near streams. Earlier the same day areas in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties also had flooding.

An event like this brings out the best in people. We never felt alone. The Firemen made us feel secure—from bringing the sand bags to pumping out cellars. The Municipal workers, from the electric crew turning the power off and the Street Crew moving gravel in to protect the house, also made us feel secured. In the next few days others would appear to help us cope.


Coming soon: The Clean Up, Flood Insurance, and Disaster Funding.









About pystew

Retired Teacher, political science geek, village trustee. I lean a little left, but like a good political discussion. My blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd) is about discussing the issues facing the people of our new congressional district. Let's hear all sides of the issues, not just what the candidates want us to hear.
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4 Responses to Yates County Flood–The Event

  1. Anne says:

    I am simultaneously sorry about all the damage and glad that it wasn’t worse. I am curious: had your house previously been in a designated flood plain? And please (the offer I made before being genuine) let me know if there’s anything at all I can do.


  2. pystew says:

    I’m going to get into that later, but when we bought the house in ’91 the survey said that we were just in the food plain, so we had to have flood insurance. Ten years later our mortgage company sent us a letter saying that they looked at new fems maps and we were NOT in the flood plain, so we didn’t have to have flood insurance, so we stopped. There’s more to that story later on.


  3. whungerford says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article, Rich. While I am sorry to hear of your troubles, your story makes fascinating reading. I am looking forward to the sequel. I am curious about the phrase “Sucker Brook broke.” Does broke imply it overflowed its banks?


  4. pystew says:

    Yes.and that is the phrase the fireman used as he was running door to door. I went to my cellar door and looked and there wasn’t much water in there at all…some dry spots which is normal in the Spring. By the time I got back to the front door, my wife came down from upstairs, went to the cellar door and tad me I was wrong…water was filling up. I have a foundation made of stones cemented together. One small stone must have dislodged because a steam was coming in like a faucet.

    If you play around with the google map link in the first paragraph we can find the other ‘Brooks” (Jacob is the main one that caused the problems in the business district) and follow them for Miles to the north, which is up hill. A wide area is drained by Jacob’s Brook.


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