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Feeling Forgotten on Franklin Street in Vauxhall

Residents are hoping a meeting with FEMA reps in Springfield on Sept. 7 will answer some questions.

Updated Sept. 7, 2011, 2 p.m.: Tina Casey at the Union County Offices says the County OEM is checking with the Army Corps of Engineers about the status of the ground water pump near Franklin Street. Patch also has a call in to Union Township Engineer Philip Haderer. In addition, representatives of FEMA will be meeting with Union County residents tonight in Springfield at 100 Mountain Ave., Springfield Municipal Hall, from 5-7 p.m. and are creating mobile offices to make visits around the county.

Little Franklin Street in the Vauxhall section of Union is so small that most folks in Union and surrounding towns don't even know it's there.

Thousands of residents of Union, Maplewood and Millburn drive by the little street off of Vauxhall Avenue and across from the Millburn Mall every day, but many have no idea that the homes on the street suffered massive flooding last weekend when the Rahway River skipped its flood wall and poured into garages, basements, cars, trucks and turned the street into an extension of the river itself.

An evening visit on Monday, Sept. 5 — more than a week after Irene left town — showed a street recovering very slowly.

Flood detritus — mattresses, sofas, cabinets, appliances, toys, building materials — was piled on curbs. Cars and trucks sat with their doors and hoods open, reeking of flood water. Residents with wheelbarrows continued to empty out basements as workers bagged destroyed items or threw discards into Dumpsters.

Early Sunday morning, Aug. 28, Hurricane Irene sent the Rahway River over the river wall constructed behind the homes, flooding basements and turning the street into a lake.

Resident Samuel Jackson (no, not the actor) said that a former mayor had visited (he did not remember his name) but that no other elected official had been by to assess the damage.

Jackson and others said that Franklin Street had not been part of a tour by Union County and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials of flood-damaged areas that took place on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Down the street, Victor M. Morales said he been home for the hurricane but had to fly out for a Doce Pares martial arts tournament in the Philippines. He had just returned home three days ago to deal with the devastation. Many of his certificates and awards from years of championship-level performances in competition had been damaged. Thankfully, his Mohammed Ali memorabilia was mostly intact. "I haven't slept in three days," said Morales. Morales' two cars had been incapacitated by the flooding; he had just picked up a rental from Maplecrest in Union which he said was providing special deals to the flood victims.

Brian Burmester of Servpro Fire & Water Cleanup & Restoration had driven his team north from Ocala, Florida to respond to the storm damage. He said that Morales' was the third basement he had ripped out this past week on Franklin Street. Burmester said that while he was gutting flood-soaked basements, he was counseling the residents on the process for applying for funds through FEMA.

Morales said residents had held first-time-ever neighborhood association meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation. He said that neighbors were strategizing on how to approach town leaders at the township committee meeting on Tuesday night.

Jackson said that the common belief of the neighbors was that a pump in the wooded area at the end of the street had failed and contributed to the extreme flooding. A neighbor using the screen name "Green Heart" posted on MaplewoodOnline that the pump, which was installed in 2002 by the Army Corps of Engineers, failed to operate at all during the night of the storm — or afterward.

Many on MaplewoodOnline were posting tips such as contact information on applying for FEMA aid or requesting assistance from the American Red Cross.

Jackson said that he — and others — had upped their deductible on their flood insurance after the flood wall was installed, thinking that they would be better protected from flooding. But, Jackson said, Irene had hit the street much harder even than Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Union County was not initially included in the initial list of New Jersey counties that were declared eligible for FEMA disaster relief earlier last week. However, Union County was added on Saturday, Sept. 4.

The Union County website directs residents to visit the FEMA website, www.fema.gov for updates on disaster relief and to register information regarding their storm damage with FEMA by calling 1-800-621-3362. Residents can also receive automatic notification of FEMA disaster declaration announcements by registering online and joining Union County’s emergency notification and alert system at www.ucfirstalert.org.

Patch plans to follow up with officials in Union Township and Union County.

Updated: This story has been altered to reflect the fact that the pump for the Franklin Street neighborhood was installed in 2002, not 2007.

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