Hurricane Ida fills SOMA streets with water, kills man in Maplewood

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The remains of Hurricane Ida slammed Essex County on Wednesday, Sept. 1, with flood water filling the streets of South Orange and Maplewood and the basements of many residents who live there. There was one death in Maplewood; South Orange Village President Sheena Collum wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday, Sept. 2, that there were no serious injuries in South Orange.

Maplewood Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul said in a press release on Friday, Sept. 3, that on Wednesday, Sept. 1, the department received a call about a missing person on Maple Terrace. The caller said her husband had gone outside for about an hour and hadn’t returned.

“Officers and fire rescue personnel, along with neighbors, conducted a thorough check of the surrounding area and were unable to locate him, due to dark and hazardous flood conditions,” DeVaul said. “The following morning, at about 7:12 a.m., patrols located an individual who appeared to be deceased in the area of 658 Ridgewood Road. EMS advances and life support were dispatched to the scene. The victim was pronounced deceased by medical personnel on scene.”

Detectives later identified the victim as the resident reported missing the night before. According to the press release, the MPD believes the resident went outside to clear debris from the drains and was suddenly swept into the flood waters. His identity has not been released.

Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee wrote in a Facebook post on Monday, Sept. 6, that four police cars and one fire department vehicle were lost to the flood water. Combined, the departments responded to more than 200 calls and conducted 40 water rescues. There was water damage at the Woodland, Civic House, the municipal pool, the main library building, the Memorial Park bridges, and at playgrounds and courts.

“Ida was much more intense than predicted — another example that climate change is real,” McGehee wrote. “As a municipality, we will continue to identify and implement safeguards, both pre- and post-storm, to stay safe.”

The main branch of the library will not reopen before the construction project begins; regular library operations will be conducted at the Hilton branch, at 1688 Springfield Ave.

In his post, McGehee named several police officers, firefighters and volunteers who helped with cleanup and rescue efforts.

“Our community had so many heroes who put themselves in harm’s way in dangerous conditions, as our residents were urged to shelter in place — from our police officers, such as Justin Moen and Giovanne Cruz, to our public works team, led by Cesare Riccardi, to our firefighters, like Alejandro Colatruglio and Anthony Fortunato,” he wrote. “There were also volunteers who stepped up, like resident Ed Mead. Their heroism is greatly appreciated by everyone, and during Thursday evening’s Township Committee meeting, we will formally recognize them.”

The storm affected the reopening of schools in the South Orange–Maplewood School District, which was supposed to begin in-person classes on Wednesday, Sept. 8. According to a press release from district officials on Monday, Sept. 6, students will now report to school on Monday, Sept. 13.

“Our facilities team has worked tirelessly throughout the weekend and done a terrific job of remediating the water damage to our facilities. However, the most pressing concerns for our reopening center around our school buses and transportation vans,” the release said. “We have been working closely with our insurance adjuster and the mechanics that we have an ongoing relationship with to assess the situation. At this time, we have received updates that have made us somewhat optimistic that our transportation fleet will be operational sooner than our original estimates.”

Staff will report to their buildings on Thursday, Sept. 9, and Friday, Sept. 10, to finalize preparation for their students. The delay will give the district time to learn more information about its transportation fleet and its remediation efforts.

In South Orange, the library was closed on Friday, Sept. 3. The pool was closed for the remainder of the season, and the public works yard and tennis courts are closed until further notice. At Meadowland Park, baseball fields 3 and 4 and Cameron Field are closed until further notice. Collum wrote in another Facebook post on Monday, Sept. 6, that the town is hopeful it has secured a private contractor to help with bulk trash pickup.

“As mentioned previously, our DPW yard experienced very severe damage, which also necessitates environmental cleanup,” Collum wrote. ”We are beginning that process this week and, hopefully, can resume normal operation shortly.”

Permits and dumpster fees related to storm damage repair and recovery will be waived in South Orange.

“The call volume (both emergency and nonemergency dispatch) was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before, yet our first responders/dispatchers/public works employees/staff all did a truly incredible job, and, for them, we owe a tremendous amount of thanks,” Collum wrote on Thursday, Sept. 2. “A lot of our fellow neighbors were in need of assistance last night, including a lot of water rescues, which was terrifying, yet handled with care and professionalism.”

Photos Courtesy of Sheena Collum and Donald M. Payne Jr.