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Gowanus Residents Brace for Swell, and Smell

By  Leslie Albrecht and James Fanelli | October 29, 2012 12:33pm | Updated on October 29, 2012 1:19pm

GOWANUS — Residents in the flood-prone blocks around the Gowanus Canal braced Monday for the swell — and smell — as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast.

As winds picked up and a light rain fell at 10 a.m., the rising canal nearly touched the Carroll Street and Union Street bridges.

"I've never seen it this high," said Warren Cohen, one of many Gowanus residents who came out to the bridges to gawk at the fast-rising tides. "We're concerned about tonight, because of that combination of the high tide and then the bigger wind."

About 30 blocks surrounding the Gowanus Canal are in the Zone A mandatory evacuation area. Heavy rain regularly chokes the canal with sewer overflow, and human waste was spotted in the canal after Hurricane Irene.

On Monday a motorboat lashed to two moorings yawed back and forth in the emerald-tinted water as the canal lapped at Gowanus Grove, an outdoor space that hosts weekly dance parties. The waterlogged lot is part of the site where developers the Lightstone Group hope to one day build condos overlooking the canal.

On Carroll Street just east of the bridge, a gust of wind knocked a piece of corrugated metal loose from a fence and sent it rattling along the sidewalk.

"I think it's definitely going to swell and it's going to reach Bond Street," said Anthony Williams, who lives on Bond and Dean streets. "There's definitely going to be a flood."

The Gowanus Canal was designated a Superfund cleanup site in 2010, and that had Williams worried.

"I don't want this water blowing up — this is very toxic," he said.

The English professor at St. Francis College lives in a first-floor apartment and planned to ride out the storm with friends in Sunset Park.

He said the water level in the canal had risen about three feet between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

"This is scary," said an EMS worker from nearby FDNY Station 32, who was parked in an ambulance near the Carroll Street bridge. "I've never seen the waters get this high, this fast, with just a light rain. If this is the way it is now, what is it going to be like at 8 p.m.?"

His ambulance was equipped with snow tires that should allow first responders to drive through flooded streets, he said.

But President Street residents Sara and Mike Kirkwood said they were more concerned about the waste stench than flooding. The couple had packed up their belongings and their dog to move to higher ground near Fifth Avenue.

They live on President near Nevins Street, just outside the Zone A boundary.

"We're just a little too close to the canal," Sara Kirkwood said. "I was more concerned about the smell. I wasn't concerned about dying. I was concerned about it being gross."