County leaders took to the streets Monday to talk with weary residents and begin assessing the scope of Irene’s destruction, as some Bergen towns braced for more flooding and thousands remained without power across the area.
Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan, emergency management head Dwane Razzetti and county freeholders toured hard-hit areas in Lyndurst, Rutherford, Fair Lawn, Lodi and Hillsdale.
They were met by frustrated and angry residents along the way, most notably in Lyndhurst, which has seen perhaps the worst flooding in its history.
“I can’t stay in my house and I have a daughter,” tearful Lyndhurst resident Erica Rolon said. “We have nowhere to go.”
Streets in Lyndhurst were lined with ruined carpets and furniture, and a mobile police commander center was open. Residents said their homes along Peabody Avenue have continually flooded over the years.
“Nobody is going to buy my house,” one resident said. A “For Sale” sign stood in her yard as the smell of sewage lingered in the air.
Lyndhurst Police Chief James O'Connor said residents have been told to prepare for more flooding. The Passaic River was expected to crest Tuesday night.
“I’ve lived here 44 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it in my life,” O'Connor said.
Local authorities were kept busy through the storm with several fire calls, including a fire involving hazardous materials, the chief said.
In addition to police, public works and fire officials, local volunteers under the Community Emergency Response Team program had aided the town’s response. O'Connor said the volunteers proved to be a valuable resource.
“I couldn’t have better people volunteering,” he said.
In Rutherford, Donovan and the group were shown a house along the Passaic River where the foundation had been completely washed away.
“The river went around the house and came in the back,” said Peter Stopherd, whose father lives on Riverside Avenue. “This is the fourth time I’ve had water in the basement.”
Flood waters near Memorial Middle School in Fair Lawn continued to rise Monday afternoon. Water had flowed back over a street near the school, local officials told Donovan during the afternoon visit.
Fair Lawn was also bracing for more flooding from the still-rising Passaic River.
In Lodi, officials said they were moving into the recovery phase as signs of normal life began to reappear in the borough.
“Our Shop-Rite was able to reopen early this morning and that was a major plus to us because people had been without food,” said Lodi Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Cassiello.
Volunteer firefighters were put on payroll to pump out flooded basements and authorities were dealing with scavengers prowling for discarded goods, Cassiello said.
Renters in Lodi were hit hard by the storm because many had recently moved in and were unaware of the flood threat, said Marcel R. Wurms, the borough’s deputy emergency management coordinator and special counsel.
Some residents at the Bel Vista apartment complex tried to hold off the flood by making their own sandbags.
“They gave it their best shot but it wasn’t enough,” Wurms said.
Residents along the Pascack Brook in Hillsdale - many of whom have been through flooding before - demanded that United Water lower the level of the Woodcliff Lake reservoir before each storm.
Mayor Max Arnowitz said that he is seriously concerned about Hillsdale ambulance department's ability to get residents to Valley Hospital in Ridgewood in case of a future storm as severe as Irene.
"We don't have a hospital on this side anymore," he said, referring to the former Pascack Valley Hospital, which only currently functions as an emergency room.
The Donovan administration has largely received high-marks from local officials on their Irene response.
County officials have held conference calls for Bergen’s elected officials and police chiefs, and Donovan worked out of the county’s emergency commander center in Mahwah through the storm. During the tour Monday, Donovan asked for updates on storm-related incidents crackling over the county police radio.
“On one level, I’m proud of what the county and local emergency management officials are doing,” Donovan said. “On another, your heart breaks from seeing the people whose homes were destroyed.”
Power outages and flooding were expected to persist, and Razzetti said a shelter would remain open until further notice.
“This is still not over. I wish it was, but it’s not,” he said.