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Floodwater from Cattaraugus Creek covers Routes 5 and 20 at the exit from the Thruway in Irving on Monday. Gov. David A. Paterson has declared a state of emergency for the area.
Derek Gee/Buffalo News

Cattaraugus Creek goes on rampage

Torrential rains cause flooding that left 2 dead, roads awash, Gowanda inundated

News Staff Reporters

Two days of torrential rains, high winds and flash flooding ended mercifully Monday night, but only after a violent storm left two men dead and forced the evacuation of a hospital and hundreds of others across the region.

Nowhere was the aftermath worse than the small town of Gowanda, 30 miles south of Buffalo, where Cattaraugus Creek rose 5 feet in five minutes.

The storm's violent fingerprints could be found everywhere, from the 80-year-old man literally swept away in floodwaters to the 300 to 400 homes one out of every three in Gowanda that sustained physical damage.

"It was like a river flowing by the house, three, four feet deep," said Helen Reinhardt, who lives at South Chapel and Walnut streets, one of the hardest hit areas of Gowanda. In nearby Allegany County, the National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down between New Hudson and Cuba for about 10 minutes Monday afternoon.

Even to the north, far away from the storm center, there were remnants of a fierce flood, most notably large sections of murky, brown floodwater mixing with the blue waters of Lake Erie. Four people also were successfully rescued Monday night after apparently attempting to kayak on a swollen Buffalo Creek in West Seneca.

Damage across the three-county region was severe enough that Gov. David A. Paterson declared a State Disaster Emergency for Erie, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties by Monday afternoon.

The flooding in Gowanda was so quick Sunday that Thatcher and Grannis brooks, two Cattaraugus Creek tributaries, backed up. They eventually rose to 8 or 9 feet above flood stage and began backing up into the village at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday.

"It was very scary," said Gowanda Mayor Richard L. Klancer. "We evacuated people from 3 months old to 80. It's pretty sad."