The Canal Corporation began reducing the Mohawk River's water levels to minimum navigating levels as officials in Fulton and Montgomery counties prepared for Hurricane Sandy on Friday by supplying sand bags, briefing local authorities of the situation and preparing emergency shelters in case the storm causes significant damage.
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency ahead of the powerful storm.
With the possibility of a "super storm" forming from a combination of Hurricane Sandy, a storm moving across the country from the west and cold air from Canada, Cuomo said he was making the emergency declaration as a precaution and was seeking a federal pre-disaster designation to have the National Guard on alert if needed.
The Erie Canal lock near Amsterdam is shown Friday. The Canal?Corporation began reducing the water level of the Mohawk?River before the arrival of a powerful storm, which is expected to hit hardest Monday and Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland
The unusual combination of weather could produce powerful rains, wind, flooding and possibly snow, forecasters said. The storm would likely hit the state hardest on Monday and Tuesday, possibly bringing winds of 74 mph-plus and coastal flooding with waves of 20 to 25 feet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Hofmann. He said that by the time the weather subsides Tuesday, rainfall amounts in New York could reach 6 inches.
Locally, officials will further discuss the storm this weekend as its path becomes more clear, and the Canal Corporation also will reduce water below navigable levels between locks E8 in Scotia and E16 St. Johnsville.
Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said it's hard to develop a plan this early with the little information the town representatives have, but they still are making plans if the storm causes flooding.
"At this point, the jury is out. We don't know [what will happen]," Avery said. "We've been checking along, and it's uncertain where the storm will hit right now. We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive."
Canajoharie officials have learned from last year's Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. The draining system in the village was cleaned out and restored, but Avery said it will not have any affect if the storm waters cause the Mohawk River to rise above usual flood levels.
Hofmann predicted the storm would be larger and longer-lived than Hurricane Irene, which slammed the Northeast in September 2011, leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity for days.
Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeff Smith said the county Department of Public Works and the Emergency Management Office have meetings planned for Sunday and Monday morning, and the DPW has moved emergency items to the Sheriff Department's garage. The department also has an air boat ready to use.
In case Mohawk River waters do exceed the banks, Avery has been in contact with the East Hill Elementary School officials and plans to use the building as an emergency command center.
According to a news release from the governor's office, the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District is preparing to store rainfall in response to potential significant inflow to the Great Sacandaga Lake and Indian Lake reservoirs in the Hudson River watershed and to the Stillwater, Sixth Lake, and Old Forge Reservoir in the Black River watershed.
"After the storm, and after any river flooding conditions have subsided, the regulating district will maximize the release of water from each reservoir in a reasonable and prudent manner to lower water elevation in each reservoir as quickly as possible," the release said.
The American Red Cross Northeastern New York Region has urged people to take steps to prepare and be safe if the storm brings severe weather.
"By preparing in advance, we can make our families safer and our communities stronger," said Matt Burns, ARCNENY Deputy Director for Emergency Services. "From Poughkeepsie to Plattsburgh, our regional disaster action team volunteers and employees are on stand-by, they are paying close attention to the weather reports and will be ready to respond to the community's needs.
"After devastation caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, in 15 out of 17 counties within our region last year, we are doing all that we can to prepare the public and our response teams in advance."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story