Nor’easter Kills 2, Forces 1,400 Evacuations in N.J.

By Bill Newill | April 18, 2007

The effects of the vicious nor’easter that dumped as much as 9 inches of rain on parts of New Jersey lingered Tuesday as floodwaters swirled through several low-lying communities and residents of others waited anxiously for rivers to crest.

The storm, which swept into New Jersey Saturday night and continued through Monday afternoon with heavy rain, snow squalls and high winds, was blamed for at least two deaths in the state and forced more than 1,400 people from their homes.

The central part of the state was the hardest hit, with Middlesex and Somerset counties reporting the bulk of the evacuations.

In Bound Brook, a community devastated by flooding from Hurricane Floyd in 1999, five homes caught fire and burned to the ground Monday when high water prevented emergency personnel from reaching them.

The Raritan River was more than 10 feet above flood stage there late Monday and was not expected to return to below flood stage before Tuesday afternoon. The river overran Route 18 in New Brunswick, forcing Rutgers University to cancel Tuesday classes at its New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses.

At the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook, more than 100 cots had been set up in the basement and classrooms, and volunteers brought in donations of food and water.

It was the third evacuation for Dale Johnson, 48.

“I want to move out. I can’t take it after this one,” said Johnson, who lives in a second-floor apartment with his girlfriend and their dog 200 feet from the river. They fled about 10 a.m. Monday through swirling, waist-deep water, pushing the dog in a crate.

In nearby Manville, volunteer Lori Jones served food at a VFW that was converted into a shelter for evacuees Sunday night. By Monday afternoon, Jones, who had been working since 4 a.m., said she counted 261 people, including 40 to 50 children.

“We’re all tired now,” Jones said. “I’ve been running back and forth with chafing dishes. My ll-year-old daughter and her friends were serving.”

Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey, filling in for Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who is hospitalized with injuries suffered in a car accident last week, declared a state of emergency, giving him extra powers to respond to storm-related problems.

In Lodi, Bergen County, National Guard soldiers helped police and firefighters evacuate residents when the Saddle River inundated portions of the town.

The storm claimed at least two lives in New Jersey. Niranjank Soni, 52, of Edison, was trapped in a car after he and three family members apparently drove past barricades into a flooded underpass in Woodbridge. An elderly man died in Belleville, apparently from drowning. Police found Nicholas Pennucci, 79, of Bloomfield next to his car on a flooded street.

In Union City, a 50-foot high stone retaining wall collapsed Sunday night onto a road. Emergency workers using excavating equipment and search dogs spent much of the day Monday combing through the 10-foot-high pile of rubble, but determined that no one was trapped.

As of Monday night, some 35 sections of highway were closed by flood waters, down from a high of 70 earlier in the day, emergency management officials said.

Teterboro Airport, which handles corporate and private aircraft, was closed all day Monday as rising waters covered portions of its runways.

Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest electric utility, said it had restored power to 83,000 customers by Monday evening; about 8,000 were still without power.

The storm was expected to prove the worst of its kind since the December 1992 nor’easter that caused millions of dollars worth of damage to buildings, boardwalks and beaches.

There was a silver lining for some flood-prone areas, however.
The National Weather Service predicted the Delaware River would
crest at or below flood stage at Phillipsburg, site of three major
floods since September 2004.

And farther south in Trenton, the Delaware was expected to crest
less than a foot above flood stage by Tuesday afternoon. Officials
said they expected that no evacuations would be necessary, a
considerably better prospect than was the case last June when the
river swelled to 6 feet above flood stage and forced more than
6,000 Mercer County residents from their homes.

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