Essex County towns try to recover from the remnants of Hurricane Ida

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ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — The remnants of Hurricane Ida walloped Essex County on Wednesday, Sept. 1, with rain traveling north from Louisiana and soaking the area. Towns in Essex County are now in the midst of large-scale cleanups, after water damaged parks, schools, basements and cars, both parked and on the road.

In Bloomfield, Mayor Michael Venezia said he spent time touring the town the day after the storm, and there was extensive damage done to homes and businesses. One resident was killed in the storm.

“I have spent time this morning touring our township to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida last night,” Venezia said on Thursday, Sept. 2. “There was extensive flooding throughout the township that affected many families and businesses.… Sadly, we lost one resident as a result of the storm, and our condolences are with their family.”

The Bloomfield Fire Department helped residents pump out flooded basements; according to the press release, 200 residents reported flooded basements. Residents who are in need of assistance can call the Bloomfield Police Department’s nonemergency number at 973-680-4141 or the Department of Public Works at 973-680-4127.

Restaurants in the center of Bloomfield, including Anthony’s Cheesecake and Restaurant, were completely flooded. As the restaurant had no flood insurance to cover the damage, a GoFundMe fundraiser was started to help with recovery. As of Tuesday, Sept. 7, the fundraiser had raised $31,016 of its goal of $65,000.

The Bloomfield High School football team’s home opener was scheduled for Friday, Sept. 3, but, due to flooding, the field was unplayable and the game had to be moved to Nutley High School’s field. According to BHS Athletic Director Steve Jenkins in an email on Monday, Sept. 6, the field reconditioning company was on-site on Friday, Sept. 3, and will be putting together a report that will be released shortly.

Zoning code and construction permit fees will be waived for the repairs of any damage done by the storm. Permits still must be submitted and approved, according to a Friday, Sept. 3., press release from the town.

“As a result of the devastating effect that yesterday’s storm caused to our community, we are waiving construction and zoning code permit fees in order to assist our businesses and residents that sustained property damage,” Venezia said. “We will continue to help anyone in Bloomfield that was impacted by this storm, and we will work hard to ensure that our buildings are rebuilt as quickly as possible.”

The building department in Bloomfield can be contacted at 973-680-4053.

In Belleville, a press release from the township said that several residents on Fairway Avenue had had to be evacuated. Main Street from the Nutley border to the Newark border, along with Mill Street and Cortlandt Street, flooded during the storm. The Belleville Police Department was clearing the roads of abandoned and flooded vehicles. Nearly 200 residents reported flooded basements.

“This was one of the worst storms in recent memory in Belleville,” Belleville Mayor Michael Melham said. “Thankfully, there was no loss of life in our community. Everything else is just secondary. I also salute the fine members of our DPW, who were literally breaking windows with backhoes and assisting in rescue attempts. I listened to police transmissions of people nearly being swept away by the current and thankfully grabbing onto trees and eventually being rescued.” 

West Orange made it through Ida relatively well, compared to other storms, according to a press release from Mayor Robert Parisi on Thursday, Sept. 2. There were no injuries or deaths in West Orange, although many streets did see downed power lines and abandoned cars. Trees and large branches were knocked down during the storm; Parisi said residents can put large branches at the curb for pickup by the DPW, but they should be no more than 4 feet in length, when possible.

As of Thursday, Sept. 2, there were more than 120 calls to the West Orange Fire Department asking for help cleaning up water in the basements of homes. The fire department can be contacted at the nonemergency phone number, 973-325-4000.

Parisi also addressed social media rumors stating that animals at the Turtle Back Zoo were flooded out and escaped, saying it was not true. Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. said, in a statement on Thursday, Sept. 2, that animals at the zoo were secured inside in advance of the storm.

“The social media message stating that animals have left Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is unequivocally false. Turtle Back is an accredited facility that takes the care and welfare of our animals very seriously,” DiVincenzo said. “In advance of Hurricane Ida, our animal care team secured all the animals indoors and staff remained on grounds to monitor the situation. There was no loss of power, and all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.” 

Power outages were widespread in Glen Ridge, including the Glen Ridge Police Department’s nonemergency phone line. The GRPD asked drivers to stay off the road, and many streets closed, due to flooding. In a Facebook post on Thursday, Sept. 2, the borough announced that the Freeman Parkway Bridge is closed to traffic until further notice.

Water damage from flooding was the most immediate concern for most residents, but power was also cut off in the storm. In a press release on Thursday, Sept. 2, PSE&G said that approximately 20,000 of its 2.3 million statewide customers were still without power. The majority of the outages were in Essex, Bergen, Somerset, Union, Mercer and Gloucester counties. By the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 2, power had been restored for 116,000 customers.

“Crews and technicians have been dispatched to hardest hit areas to respond to gas emergencies and shut off natural gas to flood-impacted areas as needed. Gas crews proactively shut off gas to several buildings due to flooding and/or building collapse,” the release said. “More than 450 customers were shut off due to flooding, and those proactive shut-offs are expected to climb. Gas service restoration cannot be made until flooding subsides and local municipal inspections are complete.”

Drinking water in the state was not affected, according to a press release from New Jersey American Water on Thursday, Sept. 2.

“Our dedicated teams of professionals executed our emergency response plans over the past few days and overnight, and, thanks to sound preparation and the investments we made into the sustainability and resiliency of our plants, pumps and other infrastructure, I am pleased to say our facilities have been able to withstand this historic flood so far and we continue to provide our customers with safe, reliable service,” said Vice President of Operations Tom Shroba.

NJAW temporarily changed the water treatment process from a chloramine residual to free chlorine residual — a standard alternative to the treatment process usually in place, and one that occurs annually in the winter months — at the company’s Raritan–Millstone and Canal Road Water Treatment plants. The towns affected in Essex County are Irvington, Maplewood and Millburn. 

“During this change, some customers may notice a slight taste and smell of chlorine in their water. This is normal and will only be temporary,” the release said. “Customers who wish to reduce the taste of chlorine can place water in an uncovered glass container in the refrigerator overnight to dissipate chlorine faster. As always, the company will continue to monitor water quality in the system to ensure that customers receive water that meets or is better than federal and state drinking water standards. Customers will be notified when the treatment process is changed back to chloramine.”

Photos courtesy of community members