Nancy Vernoy stood in her driveway with a distraught look on her face as she examined the damage Hurricane Irene had done to her home.
“This is worse than 1984,” Vernoy said. “There was 3 feet of water here. We’ve never had that before, and it is all muddy too. Heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking.”
Vernoy was one of several victims of Irene who said 2011 will be the new benchmark when it comes to talking about the worst floods to ever hit Wayne.
Vernoy and others in the Riverview section of town began the process of cleaning up after Irene hit the North Jersey area hard Sunday.
Vernoy was pumping water out of her house and one of her two cars Monday afternoon. She was unsure if either car will operate again.
Oil and Fumes
Katie Scheidt lives down the street from Vernoy. She and others said an oil tank from someone’s house ruptured, spreading the substance throughout the area. A rainbow film shone on top of the knee-high water.
“We’ve been smelling fumes all day,” Scheidt said. “That oil scares me. What is going to happen when the water goes down? Who’s going to clean it up?”
Scheidt said she contacted the township health department, who referred her to the Passaic County Department of Health (PCDH).
Wayne Health Officer MaryAnn Orapello could not be reached for comment.
Repeated calls to the PCDH directed a reporter to a message that said all phone lines at the department were busy.
Scheidt agreed with Vernoy on the flood’s severity.
“Our backyard has a lake in it. It is the worst it has ever been,” Scheidt said as her 11-month-old daughter Amelia rested in a strap-on carrier. “I’m seriously considering leaving after this, especially with a child,” Scheidt said.
The Passaic River is expected to crest at 2 p.m. today.
Several residents said that flooding in the area has worsened ever since the floodgates on the Pompton River dam became operational in 2007. The gates are controlled via a computer program and overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The gates were opened Friday afternoon in anticipation of Irene’s arrival. According to authorities, 3 feet of water was drained out of the Pompton River as a result, but flash flooding still occurred in low-lying areas of the town.
“Those gates should have been opened much earlier. They always screw it up,” Joe Martinez said as he, his wife Rosa and daughter Stephanie swept water and mud out of their garage.
“The water came up just enough to go into the first floor,” Stephanie said. “I had water on the floor all over my room.”
Engineering a Solution
Assemblyman Scott Rumana (D-40) said that opening up the floodgates early did have “a positive impact on the flooding patterns.”
Rumana serves on the Passaic River Flood Commission, a group dedicated to examining ways of alleviating as much flooding as possible in the Passaic River Flood Basin.
“Normally, we always had flooding start in the Hoffman Grove section of town and Riverview would flood later on,” Rumana said. “This time, you had Riverview flooding first, ahead of the other areas.”
Rumana said government officials are working on ways to buy out properties in the Basin’s most flood-prone areas, but buyouts aren’t the end-all, be-all answer he said.
“You’re still going to have problems. You can’t buyout the Willowbrook Mall, you can’t buyout the A&P shopping center in Pompton Plains,” Rumana said. “You have to find an engineering solution to the problem.”