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Homes destroyed, 1 unaccounted for in New York flooding

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 10:09 PM EDT, Sat June 29, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • States of emergency are in effect in 15 counties throughout New York
  • 1 woman is unaccounted for; authorities have switched to a recovery mission, police say
  • Governor: With better forecast, lower river levels, "We think the worst is behind us"

(CNN) -- Some had been in their homes for 50 years with never a lick of water damage. Now those homes are, essentially, gone.

That's the case in parts of upstate New York, where powerful bursts of rain falling in already saturated areas swelled rivers, caused waters to cascade from hills and contributed to sudden floods that "just destroyed and demolished (homes) in a matter of minutes, just out of the blue," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Saturday.

The good news, according to the governor?

"We think the worst is behind us -- for now."

The reasons are that, by Saturday evening, rivers around the area had already crested, meaning the flooding threat from them should not get any worse immediately.

And the weather, thankfully, is cooperating for the time being. While showers and thunderstorms are possible Sunday in places like Schenectady, even that would be a far cry from what happened earlier this week.

Still, the last few days are a not-so-subtle reminder that things can change quick: The National Weather Service forecasts a chance of heavy rain from Sunday night through Tuesday.

One woman is unaccounted for in Fort Plain, a village along the Mohawk River and the New York State Thruway about 55 miles west of Albany, that village's police Chief Robert A. Thomas III told CNN.

Officers, then trying to get everyone in the area to safety, saw Ethel Healey before her home was washed away by rapidly rising waters, Thomas said. Helicopters and K9 units were used to look for her through Friday night, after which authorities moved from search and recovery to a recovery mission, according to the police chief.

States of emergency were in effect Saturday for 15 counties -- affecting cities from Binghamton near the Pennsylvania border north to Plattsburgh, which is close to Canada. Several hundred people had been evacuated in Herkimer, Mohawk, Ilion and Little Falls, and 56 shelters were operational Saturday around the state.

Authorities did not give estimates Saturday as to how many structures had been damaged, or how bad, in the flooding. Cuomo, who has toured some of the hard-hit areas, said that "dealing with the damage" will be a chief focus now.

What is abundantly clear is that many people are hurting, the governor said before vowing, "We are here, and we will do everything possible to help."

"It's traumatic, to say the least, to see your whole life turned upside down literally in a matter of minutes," Cuomo said.

CNN's John Branch contributed to this report.

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