Remnants of Hurricane Ida ravage towns in Union County

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UNION COUNTY, NJ — The remnants of Hurricane Ida swept into New Jersey on Wednesday, Sept. 1, and left many with flooded homes. As of Tuesday, Sept. 7, there were at least 25 deaths in the state, with six more people still missing. Following the heavy rain, tornadoes, rising waters, power outages and abandoned vehicles in a number of towns, the state has started the necessary cleanup.

“Please don’t be fooled by today’s good weather,” Union County Board of Commissioners Chairperson Alexander Mirabella said in a press release on Thursday, Sept. 2. “Emergency workers are still engaged in recovery operations from yesterday’s destructive storm. We ask everyone to help out by keeping the roads clear and keeping an eye out for hazardous conditions.”

In an updated release on Thursday, Sept. 2, PSE&G reported that approximately 20,000 of its 2.3 million electric customers were without service where the majority of outages were, specifically in Essex, Bergen, Somerset, Union, Mercer and Gloucester counties. PSE&G had restored power to approximately 116,000 electric customers as of 1 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2.

According to a Thursday, Sept. 2, press release, in response to high water caused by Ida, U.S. Geological Survey crews were in the field and taking measurements to capture how much water was flowing in several affected rivers and streams. Crews have begun repairing USGS stream gauges damaged or destroyed by Ida and will be in the field in the coming days.

The Rahway River overflowed into communities in both Rahway and Cranford, forcing mayors in both municipalities to address the damage.

“The severe flooding was mostly involving the river, but we’ve seen flood elevation in parts of Rahway we haven’t seen before,” Rahway Mayor Ray Giacobbe said on Thursday, Sept. 2. “This was an anomaly storm that dumped a bunch of water in one area in a very quick time. The city of Rahway continues to work with our engineering department and also with the Mayors Council and the Rahway River Watershed Association, which is a regional group of mayors. We’ve been working with engineers and trying to address Congress on ways to address the flooding issue from a regional matter.

“I’ve been working with Dan Aschenbach (the former Cranford mayor, who heads the Mayors Council Rahway River Watershed Flood Control) in Cranford, and we continue to try to address this issue, but, of course, it’s a larger regional issue, which also costs money, which we need funding from the federal government,” he continued. “Talking to our congressman and our senators to try to address the situation and find out how we can attack this regionally and come to a consensus of the money spent, it’s a very hefty process, and we’ve been at it for some years now.”

A gas leak caused a house to explode on River Road in Rahway; luckily, the home’s inhabitants were able to get out before the blast. Unable to comment, Giacobbe said the city will take care of the family.

Flash floods happened in a lot of the towns, said Cranford Mayor Kathleen Prunty on Thursday, Sept. 2.

“We just had a lot of rain dumped on us very fast — streets that aren’t typically flooded streets at all did have a lot of water, because it all came so quickly,” Prunty said. “Those flash floods flooded a number of streets and caused a lot of people who were on the road to be caught in the water, and we had more than 100 cars that were disabled and abandoned. They’re still removing some of them, which was an all-day effort. That was the first part.

“Then, as the volume in the Rahway River increases, we have river flooding,” Prunty added. “That flooding is in the area that is typically the flood zone. It was two different situations, which were both devastating to people.”

Prunty confirmed that more than 200 rescues had been made in Cranford alone.

“There were initial rescues … and people needed to get out of their homes quickly,” said Cranford’s mayor. “The police department advised people to stay in their homes until someone can get them out, and then those people were taken out.… There were a couple of homes where there was so much water in the basement that it caused foundations to weaken, so, obviously, those people had to be evacuated quickly. We weren’t aware of any injuries.

“All of this will be tallied. We’re hoping that this is declared a disaster area, and it would make homeowners, and even the township, eligible for FEMA grants,” she continued. “Just this week, (it was) 10 years ago with Hurricane Irene and we worked with a homeowners team that is here. They all have representatives, helping people to complete those applications to get reimbursement and funding for damage to their homes and cars.

“Regarding FEMA, they provide a great deal of assistance,” said Prunty. “If someone’s home is uninhabitable, the expense that they incur, having to live somewhere else, they can apply for FEMA money for reimbursement, and it’s combined with their homeowner’s insurance. There are a variety of ways to assist people to get through this.”

Many local businesses are suffering due to flooding and other damage from Ida. Some, such as Cranford Canoe Club, have taken to fundraising to get them through this time. To support, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-save-the-cranford-canoe-club.

In response to the storm, New Jersey American Water provided an update on Thursday, Sept. 2. Customers were informed that, although all operating areas sustained widespread flooding, drinking-water quality has not been affected but that, due to the inability to receive chemical deliveries during flooding, New Jersey American Water would temporarily change the water treatment process from a chloramine residual to a free chlorine residual at the company’s Raritan–Millstone and Canal Road water treatment plants.

In an update by Roselle borough officials on Thursday, Sept. 2, it was announced that flooding from the storm had receded earlier that morning and that the main focus was clearing roadways. Forty abandoned cars had been removed and towing operations were in effect. Families had been displaced from the Rainbow Gardens apartments on West First Avenue, and the American Red Cross had been notified to assist. Residents were temporarily staying at a county facility, and borough officials set up a FEMA hotline for residents to reach out to, regarding damage.

The roof of SuperFresh supermarket on Raritan Road collapsed due to the storm.

“Engineers have deemed the building unsafe, and that includes the business next door, Friendly Pharmacy,” Police Chief Stacey Williams said in the release. “No one is allowed in the building until the damage is further assessed. Our thoughts are with the affected businesses at this time.”

In Roselle Park, numerous cars were abandoned during the storm. Even the car of Mayor Joseph Signorello III sustained damage.

“We got lucky in one way, because the winds weren’t very high, so a lot of tree damage was avoided, which was a good thing,” Signorello said on Thursday, Sept. 2. “The hard reality is, we have a lot of single-family homes, residential complexes and even some commercial complexes that are dealing with a lot of flooding. We prepared as best as we could. This is probably one of the worst storms we’ve had in the state, when it comes to precipitation, and we’ve had some people hit really hard with flooding as a result, so we’re trying to manage it as best as we can.… We’ve never seen a storm like this.

“There were 80 abandoned cars during the storm,” he continued, adding that finding the owners of some of the cars was proving difficult. “It’s 80 cars and about 80 different cases.… We try to be as respectful as we can considering the difficulties and the owners. While I was driving around last night, I also damaged my car, so you’d want to be as nice as possible about it. Some people are going to have to pick up their car at the impound, and some people hopefully got to their car beforehand. Regarding relief, I think the biggest damage done was personal property, so we’re trying to do some special garbage collection to help alleviate some pain. That’s most urgent. Property relief will come at a later time. But our first priority is the cleanup, and that’s what we’re focused on right now.”

In Kenilworth, Mayor Linda Karlovitch felt the impact personally, as she said her basement was completely flooded.

“We did have significant flooding damage in Kenilworth,” said the mayor on Friday, Sept. 3. “The streets are passable. All of the cars have been towed. Our Department of Public Works, Police Department, our Office of Emergency Management and our Fire and Rescue Department have been working and, collectively, put together such an amazing effort. They worked through the night and cleaned up the town. Right now, FEMA is in the process of setting up a website, so that our residents can put in claims.”

In Elizabeth, tragedy struck, as four people were found dead in the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex on Irvington Avenue. The victims were identified as a married couple, a 71-year-old man and a 72-year-old woman; their 38-year-old son; and a 33-year-old woman who was their neighbor. The nearby fire station, Elizabeth Fire Department headquarters, was also flooded, with 8 feet of water. Many residents were also displaced due to flooding.

“At Oakwood Plaza, sadly, Elizabeth lost four members of our community; 600 people are homeless,” Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said in a Facebook video on Friday, Sept. 3. “I have worked with the federal government to provide 275 vouchers, one for every unit, where, eventually, we hope to find some temporary/permanent housing for the residents who live there. By the end of today or tomorrow, all of the residents who were displaced and in need of housing and a hotel — one will be provided for them. We had almost 100 people stay at the Dunn Sports Center last evening. We are currently working with them for more permanent housing.”

According to a Union County press release dated Thursday, Sept. 2, those needing assistance with shelter, food and other resources can call the Union County Department of Human Services action line at 888-845-3434 or 908-558-2288.

Photos Courtesy of the community

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