Urban Rowboat Rescues and Chest-Deep Water: Scenes of the Flood
(Bloomberg) -- The rescue crews came in the night, hauling life boats to city and suburban streets transformed into rivers by the epic rain.
Amid rushing currents and cries for help, they saved hundreds of people from flooded homes and basement apartments across New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as the remnants of Hurricane Ida washed over the region.
“It was terrible,” said Yvette Baker, 34, recounting the harrowing flood that swept through her neighborhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey. “The water was so high. They had one rowboat trying to save all these people. People were screaming for help.”
As remnants of Hurricane Ida caused widespread damage and flooding along the U.S. East Coast, Baker escaped the devastation that claimed the lives of four people in a flooded apartment complex just down the street. At least 20 people were killed in the storm and deluge.
The aftermath overloaded emergency workers and forced frightened residents across the region to call for help and mount makeshift rescues for neighbors. The governors of New Jersey and New York, as well as the Mayor of New York City, declared states of emergencies. Transit was shuttered across the region, with the city asking all non-essential drivers to stay off the roads. Highway 440 flooded in Jersey City.
Back in Elizabeth, southwest of New York, Kahliph Brunson recounted the nighttime ordeal and how he pulled people from their first-floor apartments as the water rapidly rose.
“The water was up to my chest,” the 34-year-old said. “They’re telling us we have to evacuate.”
Elizabeth resident Karen Washington was one resident who fled her basement apartment after the water spilled in.
“This is all I was able to save,” Washington, 56, said Thursday as she pushed a shopping cart filled with clothes, a toaster and a television. “I just thank God I was able to stay awake and get out.”
Nearby, a fire station had flooded with several feet of water. Seven yellow school buses stood ready to carry displaced residents to temporary housing.
At least three people died in Montgomery County, just outside Philadelphia, where emergency workers rescued more than 450 people from the floodwaters, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, said in a news conference.
“This continues to be an active incident. We have emergency personnel who are actively rescuing people at this moment,” she said, adding that the county received three times as many 911 calls as normal during the storm.
Emergency workers in Montclair, a well-off commuter community in New Jersey, received several hundred calls for help during the night, said Sergeant Terence Turner of the township’s police department. Damage included more than 100 flooded basements, 10 downed trees, at least 70 stuck vehicles and a half dozen wires down, he said.
Flooding also hit parts of New York City. Raj Lachman said his street in Jamaica, Queens was inundated within 10 minutes. He said he watched as the deluge rushed into a neighbor’s basement and caused a foundation wall to collapse. A mother and her son were killed, he said.
“When the water came, it hit the house and a wall caved in,” Lachman said. “When the wall collapsed, the water just gushed in. They had nowhere to go.”
At Newark Liberty International Airport, where more than three inches of rain fell in an hour on Wednesday night, workers cleaned up flood damage in Terminal B.
Sara Vigier, 23, sat on the floor with her three-year-old daughter and their luggage. They were supposed to fly to Atlanta for a family reunion, but their flight was canceled and another isn’t available until Saturday. They were returning home to Toms River, New Jersey.
“They ruined our experience,” Vigier said. “By the time we’d fly, it would be over.”
‘Like a Waterfall’
Danny Calle called the Cranford Fire Department as his New Jersey house flooded, but was told they couldn’t respond until morning. The 40-year-old had been tending to his three-month-old daughter Jolene when water started pouring in.
“It was coming through the garage and flowing down into my basement like a waterfall, it was crazy,” said Calle, who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He decided to evacuate when the water reached six inches deep in his living room and kitchen.
“I’m grabbing diapers, grabbing formula, grabbing onesies,” he said. “I’m a new dad so I’m just grabbing everything.”
Rescue workers arrived at Calle’s home in an inflatable dinghy with an outboard motor at 10 a.m. to save him and his daughter.
“They pulled the boat almost right up to the door and I just climbed in with her,” he said. “Once we were moving, I held her and she was OK.”
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