Ice jam floods more than 100 South Buffalo basements

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – More than a hundred homeowners in South Buffalo are cleaning up from flooded basements after a huge ice jam by the South Park lift bridge backed up the Buffalo River Friday morning.

Police and fire crews went door to door on several streets to alert residents of the flooding potential as the water was rising.

“Our major concerns are when water gets into the basement, it can knock out pilot lights and then you can have gas issues,” explained Buffalo Fire Lt. Pat Lalley.

“Our first priority is making sure that people are safe,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown during a news conference Friday morning, adding that Southside Elementary and Hillery Park Academy were both closed as a precaution Friday.

Crews from the Buffalo Fire Department, Buffalo Police, the Department of Public Works and Sewers all worked together Friday to address the flooding, closing down the Stevenson Street and Southside Parkway bridges over the Cazenovia Creek, as well as other streets that become covered in water.

Pritchard Street in South Buffalo was totally under water Friday morning after the ice jam by the South Park lift bridge partially cleared.

“I came down here to check it out. And its like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of water!’” said Brenda Johnson who lives up the street.

Johnson watched as her neighbors used rakes to try to keep storm drains clear of debris while members of the fire department’s Swift Water Rescue team went house to house to turn off electricity and gas.

Many neighbors on Pritchard said they were woken up Friday morning by the sound of the sirens from the fire trucks arriving on scene.

On other streets, like Pomona Place, neighbors were woken up by the police and fire crews going door to door.

“We decided about 4 o’clock in the morning that it was wise to start identifying residents as we saw that water rising. we saw the water coming up through the sewer system,” explained Buffalo Public Works commissioner Steven Stepniak.

“I was here at 10:30 last night and there was an ice jam, but it was five feet below the metal pilings,” said Stephen Winarski on Friday morning after he checked on his aunt’s house on Pawnee Parkway. “Right now it’s mostly water and ice chunks, but it’s about a foot from the metal pilings.”

At its highest, the Buffalo River was just inches from spilling over the side barriers. As it was, the water got too high for many homes in that area, leading to about 100 flooded basements.

Some residents say the wake up call from police knocking on their door gave them enough time to get boxes off their basement floors, preventing a lot of damage.

“I’m glad they actually came around to let us know what’s going on. I appreciate them to the fullest,” said Pomona Place resident Dylon Ellsworth. “I wish I could do something for them because they helped us out a lot from losing so much of our stuff that’s in the basement.”

Many residents in that neighborhood got to work Friday morning cleaning up. They were running pumps and hoses to get the water out of their basements, and they were helping their neighbors do the same.

“You’ve always gotta do that,” Winarski said. “This is Buffalo.”

Buffalo city leaders say they are working with residents to address flooded basements, but they say, the situation could have been worse had crews not taken preventative measures like cutting relief holes in the ice and sending the fire boat Cotter onto the river to break the ice before the thaw.

The Cotter was back on the water Friday morning, downstream from the South Park Lift Bridge to clear a path for the ice to go out once the ice jam fully clears.

Cooling weather will help curb the melt-off contributing to flooding, but it will make things tough for poeople who had to leave their homes because of water.

The city has sent vehicles from the fire department into affected neighborhoods to serve as warming shelters for people who need them.

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