[Editor's note: This story originally published at 1:17 p.m. Monday. It has since been updated with new information.]
Belleville and Nutley officials are warning residents to stay safe – and stay off the roads – with the swelling Passaic River threatening flooding just hours before Hurricane Sandy will make landfall in New Jersey.
Residents and police officials in Belleville said flooding problems are beginning near the Passaic River in the township’s Valley section, near Mill Street and by the Second River on Fairway Avenue, all areas that are affected by heaving rains. Residents are urged to check the township website for the latest updates.
In Nutley, Mayor Alphonse Petracco said Nutley and Lyndhurst officials have agreed to close the Nutley-Lyndhurst Bridge on Park Avenue at 7 p.m. before high tide and keep it closed “indefinitely.” Nutley residents are also prohibited from traveling past 6 p.m. Monday, according to an alert issued by the township at 4 p.m.
“At this point, any resident who leaves their home other than to evacuate needs to have a good reason, and our police will be asking,” Petracco said.
A tree crashed down on Nutley Town Hall as the Board of Commissioners met at 1 p.m., Petracco said. He also said a tree fell onto an unoccupied home on Nutley Avenue Monday afternoon, significantly damaging the second floor.
At 4:45, the mayor said "lights are flickering in many places,” but no power outages had been reported.
School officials reported that a decision will be made on school closings after an assessment of conditions Tuesday afternoon.
Superintendent of Schools Russell Lazovick updated his statement on the school website, saying: “It is our goal to inform the community on the status of school for Wednesday by Tuesday, at 6 p.m. When you receive your message, please pay careful attention as we will communicate either way, and we want there to be no confusion.”
Information is always available at www.nutleyschools.org with notifications coming through School Messenger and Twitter @NutleySuper. Non-emergency phone calls can be made to 973-284-4940.
The Board of Commissioners and the Office of Emergency Management said garbage collections were cancelled Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and residents should not place any trash bags or containers at the curb during the storm. Residents can check the township website for constant updates.
All Nutley Parks Department Recreation and Senior Activities have been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday. For further information about cancellation you can call Parks and Recreation at 973-284-4966.
Belleville officials ask all residents living on Main, Terry, Ralph and Stephens streets to move their cars to the School No. 1 parking lot on Cortland Street by Monday evening to keep the streets clear for any emergencies.
"We are as ready for tonight and tomorrow as we can possibly be," said Police Chief Joseph Rotonda. "People in flood prone areas know to get out. We are just waiting for the storm to hit."
He urged residents of Fairway Avenue and Mill Street to relocate their cars to higher ground.
Longo said at noon that any important information has been sent to residents by the school district’s reverse 911 and the township’s reverse 911.
“Anyone can park their cars in any school parking lot, and the high school will be available as a shelter if needed,” Longo said, and information is available at the township and school websites.
The Main Street exit into Belleville from Route 21 south was blocked off late Monday morning, with a police car also blocking off Main Street, past Terry Street.
The area, said Food Basics manager Mael Montesdeoca, is notorious for flooding. With as much as three feet of water expected to flood the store, Food Basics employees were busy Monday morning raising electrical equipment, like checkout lanes, and removing all bottom-shelf merchandise.
"We're expecting to get hit really bad," said Montesdeoca.
Last year, the store took about five days to reopen in wake of Tropical Storm Irene. This time around, though, getting back to business could take as much as a week, the manager said.
In Nutley, the Board of Commissioners will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday to keep on top of developments, and any new information will be posted on the township website.
"We are as prepared as any community can be. This may be an extraordinary event, but we have extraordinary people," Commissioner Steve Rogers said at noon. "The commissioners and our emergency personnel are ready, and I’m confident we will get through this all right."
Officials urge all residents to prepare your basements for the potential of flooding and move your vehicles to higher ground. to check on elderly and disabled neighbors, and for emergencies, to dial 911.
– Lia Eustachewich contributed to this report.