Worst Flooding in Decades Inundates Mamaroneck

by Judy Silberstein

(March 7, 2007) A severe rainstorm that dumped close to 4 inches of rain in lower Westchester on Friday morning, March 2, caused some flooding in Larchmont and Town of Mamaroneck, but much more severe problems in Village of Mamaroneck. More than 85 homes were evacuated near the Mamaroneck River, residents had to be rescued by boat and front loaders, and power was shut off to over 188 Consolidated Edison customers. Impacted residents and officials called it the worst flooding in decades.

Mamaroneck Flood March 2007
Mamaroneck Village residents were evacuated in the bucket of a payloader. Photo by Sharon Keck.

Larchmont Village - Some Bad Spots

Ironically, the storm knocked out power at Westchester County’s sanitary sewer overflow (SSO) facility at the back of Flint Park, built expressly to retain unusually heavy rain. County crews had to be ferried through the flood in the bucket of a Department of Public Works (DPW) front loader.

The only part of the park not under water was the section selected for a new artificial turf field, Mayor Liz Feld told participants of the Fields for Kids roundtable discussion on Saturday morning. “The feral cats were fine,” she joked, referring to the colony of cats that now occupies the wooded site.

Water filled an entire low-lying block of Pine Brook Drive. Photo by VOL Trustee Anne McAndrews.
Other low-lying areas were also inundated. Trustee Anne McAndrews surveyed the rising water at Pine Brook Drive near the height of the flooding on Friday morning. “It was just heartbreaking,” she said later. The block beginning at Mayhew Avenue, “was flooded from one end to the other” she reported.

Joe Bedard, Larchmont’s manager of public works, checked the storm drains at 6 am. The rains intensified and by 6:30 the DPW had to shut down Pine Brook Drive and also Flint Park. Typically Pine Brook gets the worst flooding when heavy rains coincide with high tides. This time, the water was already receding by the time high tide rolled in around 11 am.

The flooding was blamed on the frozen ground, which was unable to absorb any water. "We basically had all impervious surfaces," said Larchmont Village Trustee Mike Wiener.

“It was a little worse than normal,” said Mr. Bedard. “We didn’t get anything compared to Mamaroneck Village.”

Pine Brook Under Water: That was small consolation for residents on or near Pine Brook Drive who appeared at the Larchmont Village Board meeting on Monday, March 5 to renew their plea for help in addressing a perennial problem. “This was the worst one we’ve had,” said Priscilla Dibble, who has lived on Pine Brook for over 50 years. Firefighters had to turn off her gas as water went up over her furnace.

Scott Cooper’s family was just moving in on Kilmer Road Friday and encountered a flooded lawn and three feet of water in the garage.

One still angry resident was Debbie Peterson, who has lived at the corner of Beverly Place and Pine Brook Drive for two years. “It’s unacceptable to see sewage coming right out of the streets – it was disgusting,” she said. Mingling of sewage and storm water has not been a recent problem since Larchmont implemented a series of improvements over five years ago. This time, the sewage preceded the flooding, said Ms. Peterson. “As soon as the sewage started to gush out of the manhole cover, it was a free flowing river – after that we all flooded.”

Water was spouting from the manhole covers on Pine Brook Drive. Photo by Paul Peterson.

Jay Fisher, another long-term Pine Brook neighbor, was less angry but clearly frustrated that there were no solutions being implemented after years of engineering studies. “We go from one consultant to another – we can’t really evaluate what we’re getting,” he said. “We have a county-wide issue of hotspots,” he said, adding that Pine Brook is serving as a drain for a wide area.

“You’re absolutely right,” said Mayor Liz Feld. She had been expecting a report this week from the latest firm hired to study the flooding, Dvirka & Bartilucci engineers.

News was not good, the mayor reported as she read from an email suggesting that some promising, relatively inexpensive ideas were no longer deemed workable. Recommendations from the previous consultant, Dolph Rotfeld, had come with a price tag of $1.3 to 5 million. (See: Tanks, Pumps & Pipes Suggested for Pine Brook Flooding.)  

According to the mayor, the Army Corps of Engineers has already reviewed the situation and declined to get involved in a project that impacts such a small area. She will be communicating with residents about an upcoming meeting with the engineers.

Mamaroneck Town - Lucky

Over in Mamaroneck Town, there was some sporadic flooding of streets near tributaries and East Brookside Drive was closed off. The water was so high, you couldn’t distinguish the road from the brook, reported Town Councilman Paul Winick. “The Town did very well, he reported, “all of the outflow pipes handled it – which was very good.”

Brook Side
Water flooded Town of Mamaroneck's Brookside Drive obliterating lines between the drive and the brook. Photo by Andrea Fleming.

“Nature cannot be halted,” said Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe,” but we were very lucky.”

“We dropped the water at the reservoir, and it still went up 80 inches and over the spillway. Once that happens Nature takes over and there’s nothing we could do,” she said. Nevertheless, she reported, “there was very little destructive flooding.” Along the brook, “the waterfall looked like Niagara and the duck pond like Lake Como – it was beautiful,” she said.

Water and Wading at the Schools

Though water was impressively high for some morning commutes to area schools, and there was minor flooding in Central School's basement and the Mamaroneck Avenue School gymnasium, the worst problems occurred at dismissal, particularly near Mamaroneck Avenue, where main roads and side streets were inundated.

Parents were advised to park on high ground and walk (or wade) to get their children. Students who ordinarily walk themselves home were kept at school, given snacks and a movie until an adult showed up to escort them. An adult was required to sign out each child, a procedure normally reserved for those up to first grade. “That was our way of making sure every child was accounted for,” said MAS Principal Carrie Amon.

“For me, it was a day our community really came together, from the youngest kids to the oldest.” said Ms. Amon. “The teachers were supporting each other, and the families were here.” Teachers and aides backed each other up as they scrambled to rescue cars flooding in the parking lot.

At the Hommocks, students who normally take the bus home were kept at the school to wait for a parent. Busses were unable to leave the garages, and even if they had managed to get out, would not have been able to navigate some of the roads to drop off children.

“It seemed like there should have been more notification,” said Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt, who was unable to get from Munro to Mamaroneck Avenue School to pick up her child. Ultimately, another parent collected her daughter; another mother waded in from Palmer Avenue; a third got a ride “across the lake that was Mamaroneck Avenue” from a stranger in a Humvee. “I was disappointed there was nothing on the school website or the email notification.”

New Notification System Coming: As it happens, on Thursday, the school district had begun training for principals on a new high-speed automated notification system. According to Joan Rosen, district spokesperson, “The new automated calling system – in the future – will allow us to contact parents about an emergency very quickly.” In the next few weeks, parents should be getting information and news on when to expect the first “test call.”

Mamaroneck Village - Worst Hit

Flooding was at its worst in Mamaroneck Village, particularly near the banks of the Mamaroneck River and other streams which rose so fast and so high that many residents were trapped as waters swamped streets, backyards, garages and basements.

Columbus Park in Mamaroneck Village became a lake. Photo by Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt.

It was early Friday morning when firefighters, police and rescue services began responding to emergencies, reported an exhausted Mamaroneck Village Fire Chief Vincent Keck on Sunday afternoon, who said his department was still answering flood related calls. The weekend began at 6 am on Friday with a tractor trailer jack-knifing and overturning on nearby I-95 at the height of the storm. Another truck crashed into the first and rolled over, and a third smashed into the second. Miraculously no serious injuries ensued, but traffic was tied up for hours as the scene was cleared and hundreds of gallons of fuel were mopped up.

Cars parked near Columbus Park in Village of Mamaroneck were swamped. Photo by Westchester County Legislator Judy Myers.

Mopping up 300 to 500 gallons of oil was also required in one Mamaroneck Village home, reported Chief Keck, as floodwaters invaded the basement. Residents of 85 to 90 homes had to be evacuated – some on the shoulders of emergency responders, others by boat or front loader. Approximately 188 Con Edison customers had power shut off, and it took days for some residents to connect with plumbers, electricians and building inspectors so power could be safely restored.

Clean-up continued for days as residents carted flood-ruined furniture, appliances and debris to the curb and sanitation trucks ran extra service to get rid of the piles.

Furniture and bedding floated in the floodwaters at one Mamaroneck Village home. Photo by William Sutherland.