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Buffalo-area residents told to make plans for possible flood evacuation

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November 21, 2014: Dump trucks wait to unload snow at the Central Terminal that was removed from south Buffalo neighborhoods after heavy lake-effect snowstorms. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Families in upstate New York rushed to pack up their valuables and schools closed in advance -- not because of snow but because of possible flooding.

Temperatures were expected to hit nearly 60 degrees on Monday, causing Buffalo area residents to prepare for evacuations caused by runoff from melting snow, and overflowing creeks.

"Hopefully the rain won't be here until later and this will be a slow thaw, but flooding is our major, major concern here," said Michelle Pikula, whose house is along the Buffalo Creek.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for Monday and cautioned that trees weakened by heavy snowfall and saturated soil could come crashing down. High wind gusts of up to 60 mph also could topple electrical wires and trigger power outages. Forecasts call for rain showers on Monday and a chance of rain and snow showers by early Tuesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo Sunday warned residents in flood-prone areas around Buffalo to move valuables up from the basement, pack a bag and prepare for the possibility of evacuation.

"Err on the side of caution," Cuomo said at a news conference in Cheektowaga. "You prepare for the worst and hope for the best, and that's what we're doing."

Most snow-affected school districts remain closed Monday, and at least four called off classes for the entire Thanksgiving week.

In Hamburg, Pete Yeskoot bought a portable generator to make sure his sump pump will keep working once the roughly 80 inches of snow that fell on his property melts. Possessions are up on blocks in the basement and he has food for several days.

"Behind us is an 18-mile creek so everything in the village will come through us at some point, so we have to get ready for the possibility of flooding," he said. "And given all this snow, we have to expect that this is real."

National Guard members spent Sunday clearing storm drains and culverts to facilitate runoff, and shoveling snow off roofs.

Cuomo said evacuation plans and emergency shelters were being readied in case of flooding. As a backup to Red Cross shelters, Cuomo said the state would have shelters at community colleges and state university campuses.