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New York National Guard responds to Lake Ontario flooding

By Eric Durr | New York National Guard | June 4, 2019

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - Members of the New York Army and Air National Guard, the New York Naval Militia and the New York Guard have filled 230,730 sandbags and emplaced 78,966 of them since being placed on duty May 4 in response to flooding along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

Each standard 14 by 26-inch sandbag weighs around 40 pounds when filled two-thirds with sand. It takes 600 sandbags to make a 1-foot high wall 100 feet long, according to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

The sandbags that were not emplaced along the lake shoreline by New York Military Forces members were picked up for use by government agencies or property owners.

On May 4, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered 100 troops to state active duty to help cope with rising water levels in Lake Ontario.

On May 13 another 100 troops were brought on duty to help deal with rising water levels. On May 20, the governor directed an additional 200 troops to be placed on standby.

The New York Naval Militia and New York Guard are state forces assisting the National Guard in the mission.

Heavy rains throughout the Great Lakes region, combined with flooding rivers in Ontario and Quebec, have resulted in higher than normal water levels in Lake Ontario, according to the International Joint Commission.

The commission regulates water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

The higher water levels increase the danger of flooding to buildings along with the lake and shorefront erosion.

As of May 31, Lake Ontario is two feet higher than normal, according to Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Peno, the New York National Guard's staff weather officer.

The record set in 2017 of 248.95 feet was matched on Wednesday, May 29, according to the International Joint Commission.

The commission said May 27 that "potentially higher levels are possible should wet weather continue."

As of May 31, the New York National Guard had 200 military personnel and 25 vehicles on duty as part of the Joint Task Force Ontario response element.

Three patrol boats from the New York Naval Militia are stationed in the Rochester area to provide assistance as needed.

The state response has included 800,000 Sandbags, 15 sandbag-making machines, hundreds of pumps and bladder-filled water containment systems that employ a rubberized tube filled with water.

The governor also declared an emergency in the eight counties that would be impacted by rising Lake Ontario water levels: Cayuga, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wayne.

"We are preparing now for the reoccurrence of the 2017 flooding situation, which as people remember, was devastating and caused a lot of damage and a lot of hardship for thousands of New Yorkers. We're talking about the entire shoreline of Lake Ontario, so it's hundreds of miles of New York State property," Cuomo said on May 20.

"The emergency order also gives us flexibility in dealing with local governments and private property so we can install aquadam and other equipment to protect the shoreline," the governor explained.

New York Military Forces personnel have been working since the initial mobilization to fill sandbags and have built sandbag berms in key locations along the Lake Ontario shoreline near Rochester.

In 2017 Lake Ontario water levels rose to the record levels, and the New York National Guard mobilized 400 troops in response during the spring and early summer months.