Jul 29, 2014
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'Now What?': Sudden Flood Caught Pine Brook Residents Off Guard

Officials are trying to determine why there was more flooding than anticipated.

Montville Township is working to help about two dozen lower Pine Brook families affected by a sudden flood on Sunday night and trying to determine what happened leading up to the flooding and why the amount was greater than anticipated.

About 20 families in lower Pine Brook evacuated their homes in water that was waist-high at some points. Some left with little warning on Sunday night, while others left the following morning. The evacuations started a few hours after the town already had closed its Emergency Operations Center because the effects of Hurricane Irene seemed to be diminishing, officials said.

Changebridge, Woodmont and Normandy roads, Sheffield Street and Walnut Drive had some flooding on Sunday afternoon, but soon they were inundated with much more water.

Ranjan Takier and several of his Sheffield Street neighbors returned to their homes on Tuesday morning to figure out how to start repairing damage to their property. Some residents were surveying the damage for the first time. Resident Bob Dudek and his wife, Elaine, and son, Rob, stayed in their home. They had 5 feet of water in their basement on Tuesday.

Takier said he does not have flood insurance because his home is not in a flood zone and that he hopes there will be financial assistance available.

Neighbors said they are hoping for some guidance from the town as to what they should do next.

"Now what?" Takier said.

Montville closed its Emergency Operations Center at 6 p.m. on Sunday saying the effects of the storm were diminishing. But around 9:30 p.m., police officers and members of the National Guard were going door-to-door saying voluntary evacuations were under way, that residents should leave in 20 minutes and that they could be taken to Montville Township High School, though the school didn’t have cots for people to spend the night.

“We were caught a little off guard,” Mayor Jim Sandham said Tuesday.

There were a number of circumstances that could have affected the amount of flooding, and Sandham said the town was trying to determine what happened. At 5:12 p.m. Sunday, Parsippany police sent out an alert reporting that the Rockaway River flood wall failed and residents in its path should consider leaving. On Sunday night, Montville police were contacted by United Water, with the company indicating the Jersey City Reservoir dam could "overtop," causing "a substantial amount of additional water to be discharged into the already flood swollen river." Sandham said authorities mobilized as fast as they could.

Sandham said there were conflicting reports as to whether United Water intentionally released water from the dam. An attempt to reach United Water on Tuesday evening was unsuccessful.

Hurricane Irene drenched Montville and surrounding towns during the storm. An organization that tracks precipation amounts reported more than 5.5 inches of rain in neighboring Boonton Township, while Wayne received more than 10 inches. The Rockaway River at Boonton below the Jersey City Reservoir crested at 9.73 feet at 10:45 p.m. on Sunday, more than a foot above the previous record set in 1979. The Rockaway River feeds into the Passaic River, which was at a major flood stage at the time and continued to swell for more than a day to its own record crest.

"We're just hoping the river comes down and then we're going to do what we can to help these people get back on their feet," Sandham said.

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