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Sun Sheds Light on Damage of Deluge

October 16, 2005|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND, N.J. — After eight straight days of drenching rain, the sun finally crept out Saturday morning, illuminating the disgusted face of Brian Edwards, a longtime resident of Pleasureland, a low-lying neighborhood on the banks of the Ramapo River in northern New Jersey.

The break in the weather promised to hasten the retreat of floodwaters and give Edwards a chance to treat his soaked garage and yard with chemicals to kill bacteria and halt the spread of mold. Having lived in the flood-prone section on and off for 43 years, he knows the routine.

"The Harley's on the deck and the Mustang's up the road," Edwards said, praising a friend for taking his vehicles out of harm's way while he was on a hunting trip.

Severe flooding in northern and coastal New Jersey prompted acting Gov. Richard J. Codey to declare a state of emergency Friday, enabling him to call out the National Guard for rescue and cleanup operations. Several hundred people around the state were evacuated from their homes, many of them residents of coastal Spring Lake, where a dam broke Friday.

The stubborn storm system that arrived Oct. 7 hung over the entire Northeast for more than a week, causing record-breaking rainfall and extensive flooding in several states. Throughout the region, streets in some areas became passable only by boat or hip waders. The weather was blamed for 11 deaths in six states, according to Associated Press.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declared an emergency Saturday, reacting to severe flooding in the city of Worcester and other communities west of Boston. Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire also issued flood warnings.

With 13.25 inches of rain through Friday, as measured at a monitoring station in Central Park, this is New York City's second wettest October on record -- less than one-tenth of an inch behind October 1903 -- with half of the month yet to come, according to the National Weather Service.

Flooded subway tunnels interrupted train service, and rain caused delays at New York-area airports during the week, but the worst of New York's transportation problems were over by the time the sun broke through Saturday. However, Amtrak train service between New Haven, Conn., and Boston was canceled Saturday.

George McKillop of the National Weather Service's hydrological services division called the Passaic River system, including the Raritan and Ramapo rivers, "ground zero" for the flooding in northern New Jersey, which was among the worst in the Northeast.

"The entire watershed has just been pounded with heavy rain," he said.

The township of Oakland, population 14,000, prepared a school as an emergency shelter, but most of the few dozen evacuees stayed with relatives or found other accommodations, police said. Oakland Police Capt. Robert Haemmerle said about 115 homes were damaged, with losses estimated at $4 million. Comparable damage occurred in the nearby towns of Wayne and Lincoln Park.

In Pleasureland, Edwards said the latest storm's destruction fell short of that caused by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, but he called it "the worst man-made flood I've seen."

Edwards and some of his neighbors pointed to a half-completed Army Corps of Engineers' flood-control project whose initial stage of dredging increased the flow of the Ramapo upriver from Pleasureland.

The second stage is meant to improve the capacity of a dam a mile downriver, but so far, the construction work around the dam has cut its capacity by more than half, according to Lew Levy, chairman of the Oakland flood commission.

Levy's house in Pleasureland had 13 inches of water in the living room at the peak of the flood, he said. He estimated the damage at $50,000 to $70,000, not counting the $4,000 in hotel bills he would run up by the time the work on his house was done.

Levy said the flood-control project had been slowed by disagreements between the corps and state officials. A storm of such intensity certainly would have caused flooding in the area, Levy said, but the project made things worse.

Representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection did not return calls for comment.

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