When the Water Rushed In, Help Rushed Over


Three friends and a 5-year-old girl had just finished rolling up an old rug and unrolling a new one on Sunday afternoon when the storm outside changed from heavy rain to something different.

Katharine Dagaev, 62, had seen hard rain and watched the brook outside her Highland Falls window creep up many times in her 10 years here, but never this high, and still rising.

She moved as quickly as she could, disabled by a knee filled with rods and immobilized. She scooped her medication and some clothes into a bag and put her shoes on. In the short time that took, it was already too late. Water flowed under the door. The women tried to dam it with the old rug, but that did not hold.

Her friend with the 5-year-old granddaughter hauled herself and the girl out a window, along with a Yorkie in a backpack. But Ms. Dagaev’s other friend uses a walker. They were trapped.

Scenes like this were playing out all over Hudson County and the surrounding region, as a slow-moving and powerful storm dumped levels of rain unfamiliar to the area’s oldest residents. More than a dozen people were rescued in New York.

But terrified residents watching water climb in their homes had no way of knowing when or if help would arrive.

Ms. Dagaev looked outside. It was like a river had been diverted, running now through the middle of the four small buildings that are the Weyant Green Apartments in the village of Highland Falls. The water had grown deeper and faster as it flowed toward Highland Brook, feet away, and the Hudson River, downhill, and those little buildings were the last structures it would strike on the way.

Ms. Dagaev was unsteady on her feet on dry land. No way she could go out there.

Most of the 50-odd apartments are for seniors, the rest for low-income families. Younger relatives were trying to help, but the nearby bridge was covered by several feet of rushing water, and they couldn’t get to the property. Neither could emergency responders.

Pat Flynn, a former mayor of Highland Falls, made it over in his Explorer with a friend worried for her mother. He saw older men and women — the ones who could stand — cowering in their doorways as water rose up their legs. Some were teetering out toward higher ground.

Mr. Flynn hurried over to a man with a cane and put an arm around him. Strong currents rose above their knees and pulled at them.

If these people lose their footing and fall, they’re gone, he thought. He spoke with encouragement, and the older man gave it right back to him, shouting, “Let’s go! We can do this, come on!”

Mr. Flynn shuffled with him slowly to higher ground, then turned back. “People were yelling, I have to get my grandmother out!’”

More shouting: Hey there’s someone over here! There’s someone over there!

A high school senior had rushed from his mother’s apartment and was helping neighbors cross the water. He ran to Ms. Dagaev’s apartment window, and when he couldn’t help her, he tried to encourage her.

She called her friend, Laurie Tautel, the county legislator, who was just minutes away on Main Street in Highland Falls. Ms. Tautel was calling about, trying to secure state aid for the entire village.

There may as well have been an ocean between them.

“You’ve got to get me out of here!” Ms. Dagaev shouted. “I’m gonna die!”

Ms. Tautel got as close to the apartments as she could, looking downhill from above.

“It was like white water rapids washing into the compound and going around the buildings,” she said. “I was praying they wouldn’t come off their foundations.”

Below, Mr. Flynn was trying to assist an immobilized older man with bandages around his shins and calves who wasn’t cooperating.

“He wanted to stay — ‘There’s nowhere for me to go.’” He asked Mr. Flynn to find his medicine on the other side of the room as the water rose.

Firefighters from Highland Falls and nearby West Point arrived. They found Ms. Dagaev and her friend, and spoke to them through the window. We’re going to get you out, they said.

“I had to climb up on my coffee table and sit on the windowsill with my back out the window, and fall into their arms,” she said the next day, her voice breaking with emotion.

Her friend did the same.

No lives were lost at the Weyant Green Apartments during the flooding. Apartments were badly damaged by water and will be uninhabitable for months. But everyone got out safely.

Mr. Flynn, besides being the former mayor, also drives an ambulance in the village. He was struck by the reaction to the crisis he saw on Sunday, before the professionals could get to the scene.

There was a sense of orderly calm: “‘Hey, we’re going to go get this guy, he needs help.’”


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