[elmira-ny.com] - Keeping memories alive...photo courtesy of Tom Drum...

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  - Sam Leonard -

Iwas out late playing poker and got to bed about 2 am. I remember City Manager Sartori and Mayor Loll telling everyone that there was no danger, although it rained for days.

About 5 am my brother Joe Sementelli called me. I lived on Lake St. near McCanns Blvd. He lived off Maple Ave. My brother told me he was being evacuated and that he wanted help in putting his washer and dryer on cinder blocks in the basement.

I got to the Lake St Bridge and the officials would not let me go over. I never saw or heard such a sight as the river roaring by full of debris. You could hardly hear yourself talk. I stood, in awe, on the corner of Lake and Water. I had parked my car in front of the Courthouse. I remember merchants begging people to help them move their merchandise to upper floors. I watched water flow out of the ventilation grates at the NYSEG building on the SW Corner of Lake and Water. I watched a grate in the sidewalk in front of Gerbers Grill on Water Street start to bulge and get bigger and BIGGER until it exploded open. Water came gushing 4 feet out of the open sidewalk as well as every thing stored in that basement such as cases of Beer and Booze.

I watched water come over the dike and spill into Water Street on the SE Corner of Water and Lake. I was standing on the NW Corner when I noticed that the River had crept behind me and was flooding the area in front of the Courthouse and my car. I ran to the car and drove to College and Water. I watched the River come over next to the Elmira Water Co.

Then I drove to Water and Walnut. I watched a 2 story house come floating down the river and smash into the Bridge (later the bridge would collapse), Up it popped on the other side of the bridge with no walls but all the furniture and appliances still on the floor and floating away.

Later I was at Clinton and Park Place where the water stopped in front of St Patrick's Church. I could see hundreds of cars flooded out in the Sears parking lot. I am sure people thought they would be safe there. I watched boats come under the Washington Ave. bridge at State St.(Clemens Center Parkway) ,and water surge into the Shulman's junkyard on the north side of Washington Ave. I was sure the water would hit Eldridge Lake and flood out Thatcher Glass (where I worked in the Main Office) but it did not. Water was seeping out of the concrete basement floor at Thatcher.

So many people needed help. Once a I got to my brother's house, there was only one basement wall left and the house was being held up by the front concrete steps, the back steps, and one wall. The I-beam in the basement was hanging about three feet below the subfloor. There were tons of fish in his basement. I got in the water (the power was still on) and put a floor jack under that beam and jacked it back into place. We then put 6"x6" wood beams under the corner of the house to stabilize it. Once we got into the house all the floors were buckled up.

Mud was everywhere, including between every spoon in the drawer and in every ceiling light fixture. The water had reached beyond the first floor ceiling! Every tree on Maple Manor Drive had Kotex hanging from it since my brother had a huge box in his basement. What a sight.

I remember how good the Red Cross was in freely giving out vouchers to people for all kinds of things, such as groceries and false teeth. In addition to the National Guard, we had help from all over the country. There were some great sales downtown. Some stores got very little water in them as their windows and doors held fast. I bought a lot of clothes real cheap.

The flood did give Elmira another chance to remake itself the queen city again, but, in my "opinion" it was not done well. They built the longest and narrowest park I ever saw on Water Street and spent a fortune on it and its fountains. Corning did it well.

I helped a lot of people clean out their homes. My wife washed my brother's family clothes for days. The homes in Big Flats had it even worse, since they could not return to their homes for a couple of weeks due to gasoline storage tanks rupturing. So those homes had water AND petroleum in them. Also some very strange things grow in your refrigerator after a few weeks without power. My brother could have easily walked away from that house and told the bank to keep it. But he borrowed money from the SBA, at no and low interest, and rebuilt his house with considerable help from our good friend, Fred Morris.