LOCKPORT– A restaurant that had been in business for 52 years beside the Erie Canal was ruined in a few minutes by Friday’s devastating flash flood.
Walking down the streets of Lockport on Tuesday, you could see dozens of residents had placed the contents of their basements at the curb, awaiting garbage collection.
And damage could be seen on numerous streets (a 7-foot sinkhole in one place) and the city sewer plant, which handled more than 13 times its average daily capacity Friday, when about five inches of rain fell in two hours.
Total it all up, and Lockport sustained $7.2 million damage from last weekend’s flooding, Mayor Michael W. Tucker estimated.
“At least 200 homes had six feet or more of water,” Tucker said. “We certainly had utter devastation here.”
But federal and state officials held out hope Tuesday for the community.
Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy announced that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is adding Niagara County to the state’s request for federal disaster aid, which previously had encompassed counties around the Mohawk Valley, where severe flooding also hit.
And Sen. Charles E. Schumer said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy last year, has become more flexible in aiding small businesses and homeowners.
There’s plenty of need for help in Lockport, where more than 600 basements had to be pumped out Friday.
FEMA doesn’t normally provide aid for flooded basements, but Schumer said in Lockport on Tuesday that he will do what he can.
“What we’re going to try to do is get them to be as flexible as they can,” he said during a tour of the city.
Duffy said state emergency management evaluators will be in Lockport at 9 a.m. Wednesday to assess the damage. Schumer said he expects FEMA teams will be coming in a few days.
For Marty Oliveri and Louis Antonacci, co-owners of the Widewaters Drive-In, the aid can’t come soon enough. They didn’t have flood insurance for the three feet of water that poured into their restaurant.
“In my mind, it’s a complete loss. It’s heartbreaking,” Oliveri said. But he vowed to reopen, either in the current building or another.
They said the water came out of storm sewers and gushed out of a manhole behind the small restaurant, which they have owned for six years.
Oliveri said he saw the heavy manhole cover balanced atop a fountain of water that he estimated at four or five feet high.
“I don’t know how high it went, but I heard the crash when it came down on the metal,” Oliveri said.
“There was actually food floating out the door,” State Sen. George D. Maziarz said.
“The freezer was floating,” restaurant manager Tom Keska said.
As the politicians toured the restaurant, Oliveri said he worried about mold and whether the building would be officially condemned.
The flood came at the worst possible time for the business. With Independence Day weekend and the Erie Canal Fishing Derby on tap, and plans to start hosting outdoor vendors this weekend, Widewaters, which is across Market Street from the city marina, figured to make a killing.
“We’ll rebound. We’ll bounce back,” Keska vowed.
To help them do that, Schumer said, FEMA has become more responsive, with aid to homeowners and grants to businesses as well as reimbursement for local government costs.
“I’ll do what I can and use whatever clout I have in Washington to make sure that happens,” Schumer vowed.
He urged homeowners to document their losses and expenses as best they can for the benefit of FEMA. “They won’t be sticklers about it, but they will want some documentation,” Schumer said.
Tucker estimated $1.2 million in damage to city infrastructure.
Norman D. Allen, city engineering and public works director, said about 50 manholes popped off and 50 sewer receivers were damaged.
On Gooding Street near the sewer plant, a 7-foot sinkhole opened up in the pavement, and that street remains closed. So does Willow Street near Beattie Avenue, where a water main broke; Allen blamed that on the saturated soil giving way beneath the pipe.
Pavement was washed out on Vine, Spring, William and Water streets and on Carlton Place, Allen said.