Trees Down, More Rescues, Flooding Lingers in Some Areas
Emergency Workers Continue Efforts
Irene is gone, but her effects remain.
Although the storm mercifully passed through the area much more quickly than expected, and winds were not nearly as high as the worst estimates, first responders were busy throughout the morning contending with a succession of incidents.
Emergency workers rescued about half a dozen people from the FoodBasics store on Main Street after they were quickly trapped by rising waters from the nearby Passaic River.
Belleville resident Almira Sclimovic said when she arrived for work at 7 am, there was only moderate flooding around the grocery store. But the waters rapidly rose, submerging the parking lot beneath several feet of water while she and co-workers were inside the store around 10 am. The workers were carried to safety in the bucket of a DPW front loader, Sclimovic said. The store is located across Main Street from a police substation.
A number of trees and branches came down during the last several hours, including a massive tree on Smallwood Avenue that crashed through power lines and onto a house. “We don’t have power,” Ryan Sheridan, a resident of the street, said about 11 am today, Aug. 28.
Another large tree crushed a car parked on Branch Brook Drive last night, said a witness, Nicole McCullough, who is eight-and-a-half months pregnant. She and her husband were in their apartment when they heard a crash around 11:30 last night.
McCullough, a Florida native who has lived though powerful Category 3 and 4 hurricanes, praised the speedy response of the township’s public works employees.
“I’m from Florida, and they would never have people out that quick,” said McCullough, who saw DPW workers arrive by about 12:30 am, an hour after the tree came down. She also expressed what must be on many people’s minds this morning after Irene departed the area much sooner than forecast.
“We didn’t lose electricity. That’s great,” she said.
Indeed, by noon, a sense of normalcy seemed to return to town. Many businesses were open and people were out walking along Washington Avenue as though this were any other Sunday.
Others, however were not as fortunate.
Serious flooding was reported on Roosevelt Avenue near Main Street, while residents of Mill Street, Davidson and Maier were forced to seek shelter at Belleville High School. The shelter, which was opened at 8 pm last night, was manned by members of the township’s volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Storm victims started coming in around 2 am Sunday morning, Aug. 28, a CERT volunteer said.
“At our high point we had 27 people and two dogs,” said one CERT team member who declined to be named. “We’ve dwindled down a lot at this point,” he said around noon, when there appeared to be just half a dozen people in the shelter. At one point, a woman and her four children who had been displaced by an early-morning fire at their Maier Street home were among the people using the shelter.
Several other families along Fairway Avenue were also displaced. Early this morning, first responders had helped a number of people escape after flood waters reached more than four feet. Several of those residents were gathered on the street today, Aug. 28, around 11:30 am, where their section of the block was still underwater.
Naida DeAngelis described Irene as worse than 1999’s Tropical Storm Floyd, the last major hurricane-type event to hit the area. Another neighbor, Cathy Bloom, agreed.
“We’ve been through this before, but not like this,” Bloom said.
The residents were hopeful they would soon be able to return to their homes to assess the damage. “Look, the water’s gone down,” said another neighbor, pointing down the street, beyond a police cordon. “It was completely covering that fire hydrant before.”
Although the area is a mess and there will be some after-effects, Tropical Storm Irene has apparently left the area without the high speed, destructive winds the storm unleashed on other areas.
Tom Kines, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com said around 10 am Aug. 28 the worst is over for Essex County. "The heaviest rain should be done with, but it's still going to be windy during the course of the afternoon. Still going to see gusts over 40 mph," said Kines. "And it wouldn't be shocking to see the sun make an appearance later"
"As far as wind speeds are concerned this is pretty much what we expected. Looks like a lot of the time winds were sustained closer to 30 with gust closer to 50 or 60."
"Obviously we had a lot of rainfall over night. Looks like close to 9 inches has fallen in the area."
Several residents had to be rescued from Fairway Avenue about 3 am this morning, Aug. 28 after the downhill portion of the street flooded.
DPW workers arrived at the scene with an excavator to assist in the rescue on the street, where the water appeared to be more than four feet deep. Belleville fire fighters brought a rescue boat to the scene but were called away after a fire broke at on Maier Street.
Police officers and DPW workers were seen pushing a rowboat from house to house, ferrying residents who failed to heed warnings before the storm to head to higher ground. Other residents walked out of the flooding as Chief of Police Joseph Rotonda looked on.
Streetlights flickered after a large branch came down on Belleville Avenue a few blocks east of Franklin Avenue, pulling down some overhead wires. A large branch also came down on Berkeley Avenue this morning.
Rains that started by 4 pm yesterday, Aug. 27 were heavy in Belleville by about midnight, providing just a foretaste of what promises to be the worst storm to hit the area since Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999.
Hurricane Irene is slowly making its way up the East Coast. The worst effects are expected between about 6 am and 11 am, with the storm leaving the area tonight by 6 pm.
At 12:40 am this morning, Belleville firefighters, emergency workers from Newark and a state EMS team rushed to the Rutgers Street bridge after receiving a report that a woman had entered the Passaic River upstream in Nutley. The woman, however, was later reportedly found by police walking along the road.
Also around that time, several blocks on Mill Street west of Washington Avenue were closed off. The street runs through Branch Brook Park, which contains many large trees. Emergency officials have expressed fears that powerful winds accompanying Irene will bring trees down, especially since the ground is already waterlogged following one of the wettest Augusts on record.
Winds had not yet kicked up, but the rain was coming down fast, swelling the Second River and sheeting along roadways even at high elevations. But as of about 1 am, there was no significant flooding in he township’s low-lying areas, including Main Street and the lower end of Fairway Avenue. One car was parked at the end of Fairway, however, despite a request from Chief of Police Joseph Rotonda that vehicles in flood areas be moved to higher ground ahead of the storm.
Washington Avenue was virtually devoid of traffic by 1:20 am, save for ambulances and police vehicles. Squad cars were seen stationed along Washington and in Belleville Park. Rotonda said yesterday that all traffic except emergency vehicles or essential personnel like physicians and nurses will be banned from roads for the duration of the weather emergency.
The township has set up an emergency shelter at Belleville High School, 100 Passaic Ave. The shelter will open at 5 am.