Rescues along the Passaic River floods New Jersey communities

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Thursday, December 21, 2023
Flooding from Passaic River continues to wreak havoc in NJ communities
Sonia Rincon has the latest on flooding conditions in New Jersey.

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Communities along the Passaic River remained under a flood warning on Wednesday as rescue crews came to the aid of people trapped in their homes following Monday's powerful coastal storm.

"This morning when we woke up, tides were very high. You could hear the water gushing from the back," Lucia Colladeo said.

If the roar of the cresting Passaic River in Paterson didn't wake up families Wednesday morning, the frigid air inside their homes did.

"I felt like when we were going to be rescued and maybe I was going to be so cold, I was going to freeze to death," Alaysha Eusedio said.

Some families on East Holsman Street could be seen from NewsCopter 7 being loaded amphibious water rescue trucks around 9:30 a.m. by firefighters. A family of six was carried out by boat.

Nine-year-old Alaysha pretty much summed up what everyone was feeling.

"Finally, I can leave this cold place," she said.

Families lost both power and heat. By late afternoon, 31 people were rescued from this street alone.

"It's extremely dangerous. You could have the gas start going into the homes. You could have explosions. You could have wire shortages," said Jerry Speziale, Paterson Public Safety Director.

Firefighters continued to respond to 911 calls for help, making sure everyone can get out.

"Everyone has been climbing on our porch, to jump over to get to their house or their cars. It's been going on all day. A couple of them even fell in, you know what I'm saying," he said.

Schools in Paterson and Fairfield were closed Wednesday, and Paterson made the decision to close schools for the remainder of the week as residents grabbed their belongings and evacuated their communities. Water spilled into the streets, flooding cars, basements and sidewalks.

"The river crested at over 10 feet high. That's the highest in recent history," Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said.

A state of emergency remains in effect in Paterson, Fairfield, and Wayne.

Shannon Sohn is live in NewsCopter 7 over LIttle Falls with more.

"The river has crested and it's come up on the homes. As a result of that, we have what we call a 'still rescue.' We have an engine a high-water rescue truck, an ambulance, and our personnel going down door to door, rescuing people stuck in their homes because they are losing power, they are losing heat, and they have animals," Speziale said.

He said that residents were coping with freezing temperatures in their flooded homes, creating a dangerous situation.

Janice Yu speaks to a young child who was rescued from a home in New Jersey after severe flooding.

"This is a unique storm. you have to get to the people. It's frigid temperatures, the water, no heat, no electric. Infants, mothers, families, it's extremely dangerous," Speziale said.

Mayor Sayegh said that even though the river is now receding, it's still a precarious situation. That's why schools are closed for the rest of the week, and street cleaning is suspended.

The Willowbrook Mall in Wayne is also along the river. It was surrounded by flood water Tuesday night, and lakes remained in the parking lot Wednesday night, where some ignored the obvious danger. But at least it's open for holiday shopping or for replacing what's lost or inaccessible right now.

"I just bought underwear, clothes, had to buy all new stuff," evacuee Dani Krumbein said.

The river spilled into Krumbein's ground floor apartment in Wayne Monday night. She called for help getting out but didn't want to leave her cats behind.

"I had like a laundry hamper, so I threw all three of them in there, and they were freaking out and crying," Krumbein said. "They came to get us in like a boat, like one of those emergency boats."

And those boats were still busy Wednesday in Little Falls, where families who toughed it out for two nights couldn't do a third.

Just the night before, crews made a total of 11 rescues before having to stop for the night due to unsafe conditions.

Little Falls Mayor James Damiano said the Passaic River hasn't flooded since 2011, but the coastal storm was loaded with tropical moisture, dumping a ton of rain on already saturated ground.

Recovery from flooding like this can take months. It's one reason the mayor says he made the call to keep all pumps in the section swallowed by the river going all night even if it breaks them.

"Keeping families in their homes for the holidays is certainly more important than a pump burning out," Damiano said.

Little Falls officials are hoping the governor declares a state of emergency to help with the cost of the response.


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