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Housatonic Hits Fifth Highest Level Ever

by STAFF | Mar 7, 2011 6:12 pm

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Posted to: Derby, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton, Housatonic Floods

The Housatonic River exceeded its flood stage by 10 feet Monday, causing extensive and dangerous flooding along the river in Oxford, Shelton, Seymour and Derby.

The water hit its highest level since 1984.

“This is very bad. A lot of people in town said they’ve never seen it so bad. We’ve had some cars float away and they’re probably somewhere in the Seymour-Derby area,” said Oxford police Sgt. Dan Semosky.

An 80-feet dock from the New Haven Rowing Club was also washed away, as were countless smaller docks. WABC television reported seeing a television and a radio in the water.

Click the video to hear Semosky’s recap of the situation in Oxford. Article continues after the video.

Historic Flooding?

The Housatonic’s flood stage is 11 feet. The water level was at 21.2 feet at 7 a.m. Monday.

According to the National Weather Service the river crested at 21.68 feet at about 2:15 p.m.

How’s that rank?

National Weather Service records of water levels at the Stevenson Dam indicate the levels are the highest since flooding that happened in May 1984, when the river crested at 22.36 feet.

Monday’s storm created the fifth highest river levels recorded by the National Weather Service. Click here to see the tracking map and historical crests.

Two separate floods in 1955 created crests of 24.5 feet each. And in March 1936, the river crested at 23.5 feet.

Here are the Housatonic’s top 10 floods, according to the National Weather Service:

1. 24.50 ft on 10/16/1955

2. 24.50 ft on 08/19/1955

3. 23.50 ft on 03/12/1936

4. 22.36 ft on 05/30/1984

5. 21.68 ft on 03/07/2011

6. 21.50 ft on 09/22/1938

7. 19.98 ft on 04/16/2007

8. 19.97 ft on 12/31/1948

9. 18.88 ft on 01/27/1996

10. 18.09 ft on 10/15/2005

Of the 44 dates listed on the National Weather Service website, 21 of the dates occur in March or April.


The floods comes after non-stop rain Sunday. The river was augmented by melting snow from the hellish winter.

Derby Mayor Anthony Staffieri said representatives from FirstLight Power, the company that owns the Stevenson Dam, contacted officials at 4:30 a.m. saying they would have to release more water than initially expected due to the severe rain and snow melt.

The Valley Indy left two messages with FirstLight seeking comment.

Video shows the Stevenson Dam Monday. Article continues below.

Oxford Fire Department Chief Scott Pelletier said five parked vehicles were swept away in the flood. Some of those cars had been snowed in. The vehicles included a Mustang, three pick-up trucks and a Jeep.

It will be up the state Department of Environmental Protection and the vehicle owners to search for and retrieve the vehicles.

Oxford Fire Department sent out a message overnight advising people of the impending flood. Some took the advice, others did not. Firefighters additionally went door-to-door advising residents on the river banks to leave.

Residents in the cottages along the river were warned as early as 6 p.m. Sunday that some of the water would be let out of the flood gates at the dam, but it was frustrating nonetheless, said Jessica Chancio, who lives at 567 Route 34 in Oxford.

“I think they wait until all this water builds up. They let it all build up at once and this is what happens. They wait until the last minute. It’s always like this. I could lose my whole room right now,” Chancio said.

Click the video to hear Chancio’s comments. Story continues after the video.

She told a tale of frustration.

“I had stuff stored downstairs, we had to rush in the middle of the night and try to bring everything upstairs. It’s sickening, it’s frightening and I’m a nervous wreck,” she said.

The family would be looking for a hotel for the night, but that isn’t easy.

“We have animals here. Do you know how hard it is to find a hotel that’s pet friendly?” she said.

Her father, Charles Chancio, said the flood gates should have been opened earlier during the rain storm.

“This is what happens when they let it out all at once,” he said.

Click play to see a glimpse of a flooded property in Oxford at 569 Route 34. Story continues after the video.

The Stevenson Dam was roaring with water. Local residents stopped to take pictures of it.

“It’s really bad down river, cars are underwater and houses are swamped,” said Chris Todd of Monroe, describing the scene.

Martin Coyne of West Hartford went to the dam to do some electrical engineering work, but the flood canceled the job. So he took pictures of the raging waters.

“I’ve never seen water like this,” Coyne said.

Oxford firefighters said they had pumped out about 20 basements. They had knocked on doors and helped to evacuate flood areas. An emergency phone call also went out.

Some people have flood insurance, but the hope is that the federal government will make FEMA assistance available, said Fire Chief Scott Pelletier. It will be days before damage can be estimated.

He said First Light and Power did all it could to open the gates early and let water out a little at a time but the snow melt was overwhelming.

“It all melts north of us and comes down the Housy,” Pelletier said.

Oxford was by no means alone today.

Carried Away

Docks floated down the Housatonic, along with large, commercial trash bins, countless docks, capsized row boats, part of the dock from the Yale Boat House and what looked like the tops of tiny cottages or storage sheds.

In Shelton, emergency crews issued a mandatory evacuation for homes along the Housatonic River at about 7 a.m., according to fire department spokesman Nick Verdicchio.

The Maples neighborhood, a dead-end on Indian Well Road, was completely under water in places. Police and fire crews blocked off the road at the entrance, to keep people from getting stuck in the deep puddles that stretched across the street.

Residents, for the most part, had moved cars to higher ground and left the area. But a group of neighbors remained Monday morning. They got to their homes by walking along the railroad tracks, or by driving in high trucks.

The photos below show the situation along the Housatonic from Derby to Oxford. Article continues below the slide show:

Karen Hanson and Clay Winters, who have lived on Indian Well Road for eight years, had more than a foot of water in their home.

“This is the worst it’s been,” Hanson said.

Inside their home, only a small section of floor remained dry. Water in the kitchen came up to the doors on the kitchen cabinets. The water outside was just beneath the windows.

Hanson had propped up some furniture on blocks, to prevent damage to the family pieces. The two were packing up clothes and items, and planning to spend the night in a hotel.

Hanson said the flooding caught most people on the street off guard — not because they weren’t keeping track of the water, but because National Weather Service projections were lower than what actually happened.

Click the video below to see and interview with Winters. Article continues after the document.

“We pay attention to this stuff,” Hanson said. “Especially this time of year. And this one . . . It just didn’t stop raining.”

At about 1:45, Verdicchio said the fire department and emergency crews were monitoring the water levels.

“We’re just waiting for the water to stop rising,” Verdicchio said.

In Derby, the Storm Engine Co. used a board and plucked a woman out of McConney’s Grove, a low-lying area of attractive cottages right on the banks for the Housatonic. Cars were submerged.

Click play to see photos from McConney’s Grove. Article continues after the slide show.

Yet residents there took it in stride, using a dry garage as a gathering spot for coffee, breakfast and flood talk.

They’re reasoning — they had a great summer of fishing, water skiing and lounging on the river. Now they’re giving the river its due.

They joked with Derby Mayor Anthony Staffieri about the situation. He was looking into getting a portable toilet to the scene to help people out.

“I went out this morning and tied everything up,” said Tracy Filion. Nevertheless the Housy washed away his docks. “That’s the only thing that killed me. They’re like five grand.”

Click the video to watch our interview with Filion.

Click here to see all our flood-related posts from Monday.

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