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Hurricane Irene's Wrath Recalled

Belleville and Nutley residents, officials recall last Aug. 27-28, when flooding, downed power lines and trees wreaked havoc.

 It’s been a year since Hurricane Irene barreled into Belleville and Nutley, forcing some residents to evacuate by boat to avoid flooding, causing downed trees and power lines and leaving havoc in some parts of town.

Some of the most painful memories came from residents of Fairway Avenue in Belleville, where residents had to be taken out by boat as the Second River overflowed and brought water up through basements to main floors. In Nutley, residents recalled the storm left between 2,000 and 5,000 customers without power.

Elsewhere in Belleville, emergency workers rescued about half a dozen people from the Food Basics store on Main Street after they were quickly trapped by rising waters from the nearby Passaic River overnight from Saturday to Sunday, officials said at the time.

A number of trees and branches came down during the storm, including a massive tree on Smallwood Avenue that crashed through power lines and onto a house, according to reports after the event.

Another large tree crushed a car parked on Branch Brook Drive that night, while serious flooding was reported on Roosevelt Avenue near Main Street, and residents of Mill Street, Davidson and Maier were forced to seek shelter at Belleville High School, Belleville officials said last August.

The shelter was manned by members of the township’s volunteer Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Storm victims started coming in around 2 a.m. the day after the hurricane and at its peak, an estimated 27 people and their pets were there.

In Nutley, resident Jim Levendusky said he lives up the hill from Starbucks on Franklin Avenue and recalled the flooding from the storm.

 “People living near the Third River got flooded out,” Levendusky said. “I remember the river overflowing its Banks, and the intersection of Harrison Street and Franklin Avenue was completely under water.”

Belleville Police Chief Joseph Rotonda said areas near the Passaic River on River Road west toward School No. 9 saw seriously flooding that Saturday, along with the Fairway Avenue problems, and trees were downed all over the township.

The Belleville and Nutley offices of emergency management both had better equipment for Irene, most of which came through grants after Hurricane Katrina in 2005,

Officials said they can do more to warn about a storm's approach, perform boat rescues and pump out basements, but not stop rivers from overflowing their banks in flood-prone areas.

“Our office of emergency management is better prepared now,” Rotonda said. “We got a boat after Katrina, and our communication about a coming storm is much better now that we call residents through our reverse 911 telephone and email systems. Still, we’re always at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

In Belleville’s Silver Lake section, resident Angela Cuozzo-Zarra said she lost a few shingles off her roof, but remembers hearing from friends and family in Fairfield and Parsippany who were suffering from serious basement flooding.

“Their homes were ruined,” Cuozzo-Zarra said. “It took them a long time to get cleaned up, and they had to go for basic supplies for several days from places like the Red Cross.”

A lighter story was told by Joan Taub, director of the Belleville Public Library.

“We closed the library early, and I remember dodging downed trees and power lines to get to my high school reunion in Fort Lee,” Taub said. “At one point, I thought, ‘This is nuts,’ but I got there and had a good reunion.”

Mayor and Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco said between downed trees, down live wires and the sewers backed up and flooding on streets and basements, there were more than a thousand calls overnight into Sunday morning.

“Our entire town’s first responders and DPW did not rest until every call was answered,” he said.

Neither town reported any injuries, but some residents were briefly evacuated in both towns with total rainfall amounts for both estimated at more than seven inches.

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