One Year Later, Remembering Hurricane Irene
Looking back on last year's devastating storm and what Millburn has done to prevent future flooding.
This week marks the first anniversary of the violent storm that flooded downtown Millburn, knocked down trees and left many throughout New Jersey without power, in some cases, for as long as a week.
During and after the storm, Millburn Patch reported on the damage that swept through the town. Although Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm as it passed through New Jersey, it still left Millburn picking up the pieces for weeks.
"I think I've been trying to block it out subconsciously," the superintendent of the Dept. of Public Works, John Bace, said. "We were going around the clock for the first two weeks."
In that time, the DPW hauled out more than 1,500 tons of flood-damaged items and pumped out up to 100 houses throughout town. The DPW spent five to six weeks working to clean up downtown Millburn as fast as possible, Bace said. "I thought we handled it well. The businesses, I think, were very appreciative."
The fire department spent time evacuating residents from their homes and preventing for flooding itself. The department put sandbags around the headquarters and had to make room for extra trucks. In Millburn, there was low water pressure, fire officials said, so the department needed to have specific pumper trucks; because if there was a fire, the department couldn't use hydrants throughout town.
"It hit us really hard," Fire Chief Michael Roberts said. "We had all staff on 24 hours a day for several days. We handled several hundred calls in the matter of three days."
According to Bace, "If you go stand at Gilbert Place and imagine water up to your neck, that's how bad it was."
Tinga, in downtown Millburn, took almost a year to reopen after it was flooded by Irene. Owner David Fishman said the township did little to help his business and is worried about another storm in town.
Over the last year, in an attempt to keep the township dry, township officials hired an engineering firm to study the town's flooding. Essex County repaired the Diamond Mill Pond Dam in the South Mountain Reservation and Mayor Sandra Haimoff has been working with the Mayors Council on Rahway River Watershed Flood Control.
Yet, business owners in downtown Millburn say they are not optimistic about what would happen if a storm like Irene were to hit again.
"We were told to get ready for another storm with sandbags," Fishman said. "Nothing has been done to change the problems that occurred."
The township's business administrator, Tim Gordon, said, in a recent interview, preparing for flooding in town is the hardest thing on his agenda this year.
According to Gordon, he wants to have, "some public works employees’ supervisor and these block captains [key residents in flooding areas] to develop a rapport so when water gets to a certain level in backyards they'd be able to alert their counterpart in the public works department."
Millburn's Fire Department said, it is still making changes to prepare for another storm at Irene's magnitude. According to Roberts, the department has replaced pumps, changed response policy and arranged for pre-action meetings before any predicted events.