‘Knot in their stomach': Towns hit by Henri fear sequel from Ida
TRENTON – All of New Jersey is under a flash flood watch because it's in the path of former Hurricane Ida, but the stress is most acute in places still reeling from recent rains from what was left of former Hurricane Henri.
Helmetta was one of those towns pummeled in the rains that fell Aug. 22 and 23. Mayor Chris Slavicek said the borough got around 9 inches of rain, with the resulting floods damaging 73 homes, mostly by Railroad Avenue and John Street near its community center.
Slavicek said the recovery is making slight progress. The borough is still providing supplies to residents who need them. Conrail quickly reconstructed an area of extreme erosion where the railroad tracks cross Main Street.
“It’s sad. It’s devastation, very desolate in certain areas,” Slavicek said. “But I do see contractors and restoration companies on site. We have dumpsters still, one on each street for residents to dispose of their materials and items that were destroyed in the flood.”
“Water gushed through the first floor of many homes from the front of the house to the back of the house. So, flooring and kitchens and furnishings and everything had to be removed, so those folks are certainly not living in the houses,” he said. “A few still don’t have electricity. There were two homes in particular where the foundations were, you know, severe structural damage. So, they’re working to rebuild that as well.”
Cranbury Mayor Michael Ferrante said around 20 to 30 homes and businesses had various levels of water in their basements and first floors. Except for a few households, most were able to remain in their homes, he said.
“The affected homes were not just in the historic village; they were all over town in all neighborhoods,” Ferrante said. “We received 9 inches of rain in about two and a half hours, and it was easily 3-4 times what was expected. We haven't seen this level of water impact since Hurricane Irene, when the lake breeched the dam on Main Street. We just re-engineered the dam and spillway in 2014, so this was the largest rain event since that time, and the dam and spillway performed well.
“Cranbury is a self-sufficient town: the police and fire helped people out, our local plumbers and contractors were helping people the same day, and neighbors provided support wherever they could,” Ferrante said.
Cranbury’s police chief and Office of Emergency Management posted an advisory to residents on Monday through the township’s Nixle alert system, warning of the potential for heavy rainfall and flash flooding.
Slavicek said this was the fourth time that area of Helmetta was flooded in the last 20 to 30 years, though the last was a decade ago with Tropical Storm Irene.
“I’m born and raised in Helmetta, lived here 40 years. My parents have been affected by all four floods. Enough is enough, quite frankly,” Slavicek said. “However, this by far was the worst caliber. I’ve never seen as much water.”
The mayor was scheduled to take part in a conference call Monday with Gov. Phil Murphy’s office to discuss the topic.
“Respectfully, I think that it’s more of a regional problem. There’s a lot of building in surrounding neighborhoods and areas. And I’m all for development. However … we really need to get some constituents together regionally,” he said. “They had some massive flooding in Jamesburg. There was flooding in Cranbury. And we’re all kind of in the same water route – different streams and the matrix of the waterways. I feel like Helmetta kind of became the retention pond for lack of better terms for this storm.”
In the short term, however, is Ida and the prospect for another half-foot of rain. Slavicek said the borough doesn’t always flood with that size rainfall – but wonders if Henri’s soaking leaves the area vulnerable.
“We are concerned because they’re saying 5 to 6 inches of rain again. It would be a complete catastrophe if residents were flooded again. And I think some residents are really just emotionally stressed,” Slavicek said.
“There really are no words to tell people,” he said. “I can’t predict the rainfall. We can watch it closely, we can monitor it, we can educate and make suggestions for people to be proactive and plan. But it’s the fear of the unknown. I think anyone would have that knot in their stomach when it comes to that.”