Down came the rain
Record rainfall swept across the state Monday and Tuesday, causing island residents a number of headaches – from roads closed due to flooding to cancelled schools to watery basements.
Heavy rain began Monday and quickly caused problems as already-saturated soil and swollen bodies of water tried to absorb the additional rainfall. Early reports estimated that approximately eight inches of rain fell in Jamestown.
Wind also came with the storm. Peak gust at the Lawn Avenue School was 41 mph on Tuesday.
To say that the storm had island public safety workers and volunteers on overdrive is at best an understatement.
Jim Bryer, who has served six years as the chief of the Jamestown Fire Department, said Wednesday morning that volunteers had been working around the clock to pump out flooded basements. Bryer himself was operating on about “three hours of sleep,” he said.
The first call to the department for a flooded basement came in at 2 a.m. on Monday, he said.
Since then, volunteers have pumped out more than 200 basements – some more than once – as the water kept rising.
Water was four to six feet high in several basements of island homes, Bryer said.
At one house, “water was pouring out of the bulkhead” when firefi ghters arrived with the pump.
One house on the North End had water “six inches from the floor joists,” he said.
Bryer said the department had about 20 pumps for the job. Approximately 30 volunteer firefighters – both men and women – responded to the calls.
“We had it under control until Tuesday evening when people came home from work and found their basements had flooded,” Bryer said.
Bryer praised the fire department volunteers.
“I want everyone to know how hard these people have worked,” he said.
In addition to the fire department volunteers, a group of outside volunteers (wives and others) pitched in Tuesday to cook a warm pasta meal for the firefighters. Up until that time, the volunteers had been surviving on pizza and coffee.
This storm was bad, the 50-yearold Jamestown native said.
“I’ve never seen anything worse than this,” he said. “Even during the hurricanes. We’ve had to pump out cellars before, but not in this number.”
“Most people who had sump pumps were okay. It was those homes that did not have sump pumps, or that the sump pumps failed or were not plugged in that had the flooding,” he said.
Scott Sherman, owner of Jamestown Hardware, said that Monday and Tuesday were two of his busiest days ever. Sump pumps were in high demand.
“We sold every sump pump we had and the phone is ringing off the wall,” Sherman said Tuesday.
Sherman said he had 16 sump pumps scheduled for delivery on Wednesday and had requests for 60 or more.
“I could easily sell 500 pumps if I could get them,” he added.
In addition to sump pumps, the Jamestown Hardware plumbing department was nearly cleaned out by customers looking for pipe fittings.
“We are trying to piece together whatever is possible so people can pump the water from their basements,” he said.
Sherman said customers were also buying hydrostatic cement to patch leaking basement walls.
The police department also fielded some flooded basement calls, said Lt. Bill Donovan of the Jamestown Police Dept.
During the storm, he said, the police department created a list of names of people who called the police station with basement flooding complaints and referred them to the fire department.
“We haven’t had a storm like this before in terms of rain and flooding,” Donovan said.
The single biggest issue that the police department dealt with, he said, was the closure of North Main Road.
“We closed it sometime Monday evening and re-opened it early Wednesday morning,” he said.
One police officer commented that many motorists did not understand that the roads were closed for public safety reasons.
“A foot of water will stop a car in its tracks,” he said. “Or worse, rushing water can overturn a car.”
Flooding on North Main Road wasn’t from the creek, Donovan said; rather, rainwater rose on the sides of the road and spilled over onto the surface.
“All indications now are that it’s over,” he said. “I think we’re on the mend.”
Conanicus Avenue was also nearly impassable during high tide on Tuesday. Storm water washed away roads and driveways. The road surface of Wright Lane on the North End collapsed from water rushing beneath it.
Donovan praised the reaction of residents, adding, “We appreciate everybody’s patience when we have to close roads and re-route them.”
The storm also caused headaches at the town’s wastewater treatment plant.
“We’ve treated eight times what the plant would normally treat,” said Plant Superintendent Douglas Ouellette. “Normally, we’d treat 350,000 gallons per day; right now, we’re treating 2.8 million gallons per day.”
His staff was doing the best it could, he said, but there’s only so much they can do.
“I’ve worked here for 21 years and this is the most water I’ve ever seen,” Ouellette said. “This is the biggest storm I’ve ever had to deal with. Even DEM is saying that.”
Ouellette said that on Wednesday, more water was coming into the town’s pumping stations than the system could handle, leading to sanitary sewer overflows.
On Wednesday, he said, sewerage was draining into Dutch Harbor, Mackerel Cove, the East Passage and the bottom of Knowles Court.
Ouellette said that although the dilution factor was great, he advised residents to be careful and to avoid walking in the water.
“When we were kids, we’d go out and play in storm water,” he said. “You don’t want to be doing that.”
Still, even with the sewer overfl ows, Jamestown’s wastewater treatment plant handled the storm as well as can be expected, he said.
“Given the severity of the storm, we’re actually doing a lot better than other facilities in the state,” he said. “I’ve been in touch with DEM. We’re small potatoes.”