Flood waters pour into Binghamton, breaking record

The river level meets the bottom of the State Street Bridge Thursday afternoon / photo: Wayne Mahar

CNY Central Chief Meteorologist Wayne Mahar and Photojournalist Andy Wolf were in Binghamton Thursday to report on the flooding that has taken place along the banks of the Susquehanna River and into the city streets.

Mahar says more than 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in and around Binghamton. 1,000 to 2,000 of them are being sheltered at Binghamton University. Wayne says he heard that there is a Red Cross Shelter in Endicott that no one can get to because of the severity of the flooding.

Elsewhere in Broome County, Johnson City and Conklin have also been hit hard. Water has breached the levees in Johnson City, forcing additional evacuations. A shopping center on Harry L. Drive is completely flooded, with water levels up past the doorways of many stores.

Roughly 1,000 New York State National Guardsmen have been sent to Broome County to assist with evacuations and flood relief. Many of these troops are coming off of working in the Catskill Mountains on recovery and relief after Tropical Storm Irene pounded the area last week.

Wayne also posted this earlier on our CNY Central Facebook page: Never been on scene at a weather disaster that has National Guard helicopters flying overhead looking for people to rescue. As of this writing the river levels are still rising and latest indications are the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, which meet in this city, should rise another 11 inches cresting around 6:00 p.m. today. Most locals view this flooding event as 'a little worse' than the 2006 event and 'about the same' as the Hurricane Agnes flood of 1972.He added The photos I sent and which have been posted are from downtown Binghamton, roughly 200 yards from where the rivers should be. The green bridge in the photo is the State Street Bridge, where the water is just lapping the bottom of the bridge. I also walked across the Washington Street cement bridge with my videographer Andy Wolf and shot some video, which will be seen on our CNY Central TV stations tonight.

Mahar says some of the flood damage he has witnessed is reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, with National Guard choppers overhead and soldiers helping out in the streets. He says all radio stations in the region are in wall-to-wall coverage of flooding.

More on this story from the Associated Press:

The rain-swollen Susquehanna River overflowed its retaining walls in downtown Binghamton on Thursday, sending water coursing down city streets and leaving officials scrambling to evacuate holdouts who didn't heed earlier warnings to leave.

The Susquehanna's water level was higher than 25 feet Thursday morning, above the 25-foot record set in 2006 and more than 11 feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. It was expected to rise another foot or so Thursday afternoon.

Water started coming over the city's retaining walls about 10 a.m., less than 12 hours after officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for sections near where the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers converge, Broome County emergency services manager Brett Chellis said.

"It's getting worse by the minute," he said.

In downtown Binghamton, a city of about 45,000, water coursed down city streets and climbed halfway up trees and streetlamps on a plaza at Confluence Park where the two rivers meet.

Around noon Thursday, city officials closed all streets in the city to all traffic except for emergency vehicles. Dozens of other road closures effectively sealed the city off from outside traffic.

Evacuation orders began being issued Wednesday to some 20,000 people in the city and neighboring communities along the Susquehanna.

Chellis said people who remained in the inundated neighborhoods were being evacuated in public transit buses, but some had to be rescued by boat. National Guard helicopters were on standby to help, if needed, Chellis said.

Binghamton University was serving as an evacuation center and reported about 1,000 people were there Thursday morning. Hundreds of others chased out by flooding had arrived at seven shelters set up across the county, Chellis said.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths.

"We're moving through there as quickly as possible to make sure people are out," Binghamton Deputy Mayor Andrew Block said.

The Binghamton neighborhoods being evacuated were the same areas people were forced out of during the 2006 flood.

"We went through a lot five years ago," Chellis said. "We're trying to emphasize it's going to be worse."

About 80 miles downstream in northeastern Pennsylvania, tens of thousands of people living along the Susquehanna River were ordered to leave Thursday.

The overflowing Susquehanna closed off Interstate 88 and flooded parts of Oneonta, which is home to a state university.

Tom Connelly was camping by the river Wednesday night when the water came up very fast.

"Within a half hour - less than a half hour - it really overflowed its banks and I really almost didn't have enough time to get out of there," Connelly said. "By the time I left the tent, the water was within two feet ... I'm sure the tent is long gone."

Rachel Ainslie-Hamblin was nervously eying a floodgate that kept a wall of brown water from washing through her house. Workers had buttressed the gate with mounds of dirt but it appeared water was seeping through.

"It would be nice if the floodgate had been a little more secure," she said. "We're in the downstairs wondering if we have to be moving things. We wonder if the dirt is enough or they should be sandbagging."

In the Binghamton area and in the Mohawk, Hudson and Schoharie valleys, scores of schools were closed as rainfall totals topped 8 inches in some areas outside Binghamton, with more falling Thursday morning.

Interstate 87's southbound lanes at Exit 18 in New Paltz were closed for about two hours because of flooding in Newburgh. A 105-mile stretch of Interstate 90 was expected to be closed along the Mohawk River, which had overflowed its banks in some areas.

"It's all contingent on rainfall and water levels," said Sgt. Thomas Burroughs of the state police Thruway detail in Albany.

The mainline Thruway, New York's most heavily traveled east-west highway, remained open, but Exits 27, 28 and 29 in the Mohawk Valley were closed, troopers said.

In Montgomery County, 30 miles northwest of Albany, the sheriff's department said only emergency vehicles were allowed on local roads.

Amtrak passenger service between Albany and the Buffalo-Niagara region was cancelled because of extensive flooding near Amsterdam, also on the Mohawk River.

Evacuations in Binghamton began Wednesday night. The New York National Guard said it had 130 soldiers deployed in the Binghamton area, with another 200 en route Thursday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to tour flood-impacted parts of the city.

The soldiers were using more than 40 high-axle trucks and Humvees to travel in flooded areas, and Air National Guard rescue and medevac helicopters were standing by on Long Island and in Rochester if needed, Guard officials said. More than 740 members of the New York Army National Guard remained on duty responding to weather-related conditions in several upstate counties, including areas initially damaged by Tropical Storm Irene.