Lake Ontario flooded over Wednesday night, something lakeshore residents in Niagara County were desperately hoping wouldn’t happen.
“It was going past my house like a river,” said Lisa Pettitt, an Olcott resident.
Firefighters rushed to Pettitt’s neighborhood to deploy sandbags in an attempt to mitigate any damage. They decided to return Thursday and install an aquadam.
“This is the first one we’ve deployed so far out here in Niagara County (this spring),” said Jonathan Schultz, the Niagara County Director of Emergency Services. “What happened yesterday, we had some north, northeast winds and we had six to eight foot swells coming off the lake.”
Schultz said while water surounded homes, none of the homes flooded.
An aquadam is an inflatable product which, once filled with water, forms a three foot barrier between the lake and the property which it protects.
“They roll out the aquadam itself. We have it stretched out, laid out in the area we want to have protected from the water,” Schultz said. “We hook up three inch pumps to pump the lake water. Basically it fills up inside the aquadam.”
On Wednesday, Lake Ontario rose to 247.45 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That means it’s up a full foot in just the last two weeks. Governor Andrew Cuomo toured Olcott with Newfane Town Supervisor Tim Horanburg to see which areas were vulnerable to flooding. Just hours later, the winds shifted, and the water rushed in.
“We had probably six to eight inches of water around many residences here,” Schultz said.
“I’m hoping the worst is over, but I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pettitt said.
First responders suspect the worst is not over, as the lake continues to rise. While the International Joint Commission, which regulates water levels, did increase the amount of water being let out of the lake Thursday afternoon, outflows are still lower than they were at any point in Spring 2018.
“You feel helpless,” Pettitt said. “You don’t know what to do. There’s nothing really you can do, just wait and see what happens.”