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Soggy South Mountain Starts Wringing Out Irene

After water recedes, waterlogged families start the difficult job of cleaning up the muck.

Residents all over Millburn and Short Hills are struggling to cope after the wrath of Irene.

Thousands have no power. No one can drink the water, what little there is. And some don’t have it all.

In the area, neighbors are dealing with the additional stress of having a several feet of sewage water sit in their basements, yards and streets for an entire day before it receded.

On Monday, they began the daunting task of dragging all of the soggy, smelly ruined carpets, furniture, books, toys, clothes and whatever else they could find out to the street.

“It’s gross,” said Zevan Cohen, whose yard on Greenwood was flooded with several feet of water all day Sunday.

In a little more than an hour’s time Sunday morning as Irene passed over Northern New Jersey, Cohen watched his yard go from just a little standing water to reaching the basket of his full-size basketball hoop.

“I don’t know what happened but that much water couldn’t have been just spilling over the top of the walls,” he said, referring to flood walls the town installed after the neighborhood flooded so severely during that the neighborhood had to be evacuated.

The neighborhood wasn’t supposed to flood again. But it did. And badly enough that emergency officials were watching it to determine whether they needed to call in the National Guard to assist them again.

But the walls held. However, storm was so bad with so much rain for so long that the water rushed over the top of the walls, said township and emergency officials.

As soon as water flowed over the top, Lt. Peter Eakley of the Office of Emergency Management sent out an alert about it to let people know it was not breached but water was flowing over the top.

 “Last time the military trucks came through and helped us get out and get shelter no one came this time,” said Svetlana Kachintsev. “We feel a little neglected by the town this time. They were worried more about downtown this time.”

Officials say they haven't neglected the neighborhood. They were there throughout the storm, keeping watch on the flood walls. And crews from Millburn and elsewhere have worked all day Sunday and Monday pumping out water from the neighborhood and sump pumps have been running since the water started receding Sunday night.

Kachinstev wanted crews to pump her basement just enough to let her get to the breaker box so she could have power for her own sump pump but they weren’t authorized to do that.

“I just want to start getting the water out of my basement,” she said.

The first floor of her home had about eight inches of standing water, which warped all the hard wood floors. The basement and lower level of the first floor were totally underwater and about eight inhes were completely submerged, ruining everything in both. On Monday the basement remained underwater.

The flooding was devasting and horrific, said Sheryl Cohen, Zevan’s wife, and most don’t have flood insurance because they weren’t supposed to need flood insurance.

“This is going to cost us for a long time,” she said. “We’ll probably have to replace the deck, and it’s already smelling musty – we may be getting mold already.

“I just don't under how this could this happen again” she said. “This was not supposed to happen. The town said they were prepared?”

The Township and Office of Emergency Management say they prepared well for the storm and they also repeatedly warned residents to prepare for the worst.

“This was just a gigantic event,” said Mayor Sandy Haimoff. “As the governor said today, it was the worst event in New Jersey in 100 years. If we hadn’t prepared as well as we did, this would have been a lot worse.”

Now town crews are spending long days helping residents clean up and syphoning water out of the neighborhood.

“Our employees are working hard to help residents recover from this,” Haimoff said. “It’s exhausting for everyone.”

The mayor said she has also been talking to county, state and federal elected officials who have been checking in on the damage in Millburn, but as of Monday. FEMA has not been out yet.

When the neighborhood started flooding on Greenwood, water completely submerged Yi He’s minivan inside her garage and the car that was parked outside. When the waters started to rise she said she tried to move the car that was outside up the slope of her driveway to higher ground, but the water came too fast.

“It was scary,” she said. “I couldn’t get it fast enough.”

She said neighbors are really coming together to get through the ordeal.

“This neighborhood is very good,” she said. “Everyone is helping each other.”

Layni Rothbort August 30, 2011 at 02:21 PM
Since there has been no power here in parts of South Mountain for almost 3 days now, one would think that the police would be patrolling more in those areas, in light of the higher rate of crime this town has experienced this summer. However, I have not seen any police cars patrolling at all. At night we don't even have any street lights to deter break-ins, nor are alarm systems working to warn of fire or carbon monoxide, yet it seems that no one is looking out for us.

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