Insurance News

Cleanup starts in NJ amid continuing flooding

Posted on: September 5, 2011

Fabio Berni wondered when the liquor store where he works will be able to reopen.

Susan Laughlin despaired over the damage to the ground-floor apartment in her house that filled with five feet of water Sunday.

Bonnie Riddick, who rents the apartment, likely expressed a sentiment of thousands of people along the Eastern Seaboard faced with the daunting task of cleaning up after Irene, first a hurricane and then a tropical storm.

“This just stinks, in more ways than one,” Riddick said as she showed a visitor the water marks on her apartment walls and noted the faint aroma of sewage.

Tuesday was a second consecutive picture-perfect late August day that failed to brighten the mood of New Jersey business-owners, tenants and homeowners trying to salvage what they could and just get back to normal. It promised to be a long slog.

“I called the town and they said they’d put me on a list,” said 80-year-old Etta Peraino, whose house is two doors up from Berni’s liquor store in Lodi, a town made famous as the real-life site of the Bada Bing strip club in HBO’s “Sopranos.”

“I need people to help out, but nobody’s coming,” Peraino said. “I’ve got a lot of things in my basement that could be ruined, and I can’t wash anything because I don’t have any hot water.”

Myriad questions faced New Jerseyans as most rivers began to recede and expose a path of destruction that seemed to touch all corners of the state. Riddick was wondering who would pay to replace her furniture and appliances.

Laughlin, her landlord, went through similar flooding in 2006 and was near the end of her rope Tuesday.

“I’m ready to walk if flood insurance doesn’t pay to fix this,” she said. “I’ll end up in foreclosure.”

Olga Rivera was outside in a tank top and pajama bottoms, surveying her water-logged, destroyed belongings that were heaped on the sidewalk in front of her apartment.

“I lost everything,” she said. “My pictures. Everything that means something, they’re in the garbage. I don’t have anything to tell my daughter: `This belonged to you when you were 2 years old.’ Everything is in the garbage.”

Many New Jerseyans were entering their third day without power as utility crews worked to restore electricity to about 300,000 homes and businesses Tuesday afternoon, well down from a high of more than 900,000. Downed trees in Monmouth and Ocean counties and flooding in Bergen, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties hampered restoration efforts.

State transportation officials said the number of state roads where all lanes are closed due to flooding or storm damage was down Tuesday afternoon to 20, from 282 late Sunday. Repairs were under way on the damaged Interstate 287 in Morris County, where the northbound lanes were closed, creating nightmarish traffic backups. The flooded Rockaway River washed out soil supporting part of the roadbed near Boonton and Parsippany-Troy Hills.

Even as most floodwaters around the state began receding, waters in the city of Paterson rose Tuesday afternoon, prompting evacuations by boat and high-water vehicles, said Ed O’Connell, a Passaic County elected official and liaison to the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

More than 1,700 people had been evacuated in Passaic County in recent days, and additional shelters were being opened. O’Connell said the highest priority Tuesday was evacuating seniors living in high-rise buildings and those needing medical attention, but travel was stymied because almost every bridge into Paterson was closed, and authorities worked to shut down off-ramps to Interstate 80.

Commuters returned to the rails as New Jersey Transit resumed most of its train service that had been suspended over the weekend.

The commute Tuesday went “fairly well,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Penny Bassett Hackett said. However, flooding halted trains and buses at the Route 23 Transit Center in Wayne.

Gov. Chris Christie toured hard-hit areas of Passaic County and was to hold a news conference late in the day.

Agriculture experts said the flooding could hit one of the state’s big cash crops — blueberries — hard next year. Gary Pavlis, an agent with the Rutgers Agriculture Experiment Station Atlantic County, said the root systems start to die in bushes that are in standing water for 27 hours. Farmers won’t know the extent of the damage until the spring.

As of 2007, New Jersey had more than 9,000 acres dedicated to cultivated blueberries, second only to Michigan.

At least six deaths have been linked to the storm. Most were caught in fast-moving floodwaters.

Most beaches along the Jersey shores suffered some degree of erosion from the hurricane, although none was severe. Lifeguards returned to many popular beaches on Tuesday, as did vacationers.


Associated Press writers Geoff Mulvihill and Josh Lederman in Trenton and Wayne Parry in Manasquan contributed to this report.

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