North Jersey residents grapple with severe flooding from Passaic River

Residents in North Jersey are still grappling with the effects of Monday’s powerful coastal storm.

The Passaic River’s high water level caused substantial flooding, leaving lingering problems that grew worse through Tuesday evening.

Schools in Paterson and Fairfield remain closed Wednesday, as residents grabbed their belongings and evacuated their communities Tuesday. Water spilled into the streets, flooding cars, basements and sidewalks.

Meanwhile, in Wayne, as well as in Paterson and Fairfield, officials declared a state of emergency.

News helicopters were high in the sky Tuesday morning, capturing first responders as they rescued several stranded drivers, all as officials braced for the worst to come for North Jersey residents.

That fear was put to the test by the afternoon as the Passaic River flowed over its banks and crest levels exceeded initial expectations.

Just before 2 p.m., Little Falls alerted residents that flooding from the river would be imminent. By the evening, first responders were going door-to-door recommending residents evacuate from their homes.

“While it is at its highest height, you know, certainly rescuing them in those locations is not an easy task,” Little Falls Mayor James Damiano said. “It’s something that may at some point become impossible.”

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

“It’s very flooded, the water is very high,” said Sam Zaky, who had to be rescued.

The Fairfield Office of Emergency Management measured the height of the river to be over 21 feet by 7 p.m., and the latest prediction indicated that it could crest at an elevation of over 22 feet by Wednesday morning.

“We’re going to have a period of sort of sustained levels of the river, and then it’ll start to recede,” Little Falls Police Chief Bryan Prall said.

Mayor Damiano said the Passaic River hasn’t flooded since 2011, but the coastal storm Sunday 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.

In Paterson, a state of emergency was in effect. Public schools in Paterson were closed Tuesday in preparation for the crest and will be closed once again on Wednesday after initially announcing a delayed opening.

“That’s one of the reasons why we declared a state of emergency so that our first responders can get there faster,” said Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.

Several roads and bridges were closed, especially in low-lying areas, to prevent residents from traveling in dangerous areas.

A section of Route 23 was also closed due to flooding Tuesday night.

The situation was just as bad along the Pompton River, where residents came to the sad realization that everything they owned was damaged or destroyed.

Tuesday afternoon also saw rescues taking place in Wayne and in Lincoln Park, where a house fire ravaged in the early morning hours.

The home was surrounded by floodwaters leaving fire trucks unable to get in to fight the blaze.

In the midst of all these concerns, residents say the worst part is that this happens every few years.

“When it comes, it usually comes a day or two days later after they say, and it’s bad,” one resident said.

Many residents are still dealing with damage to their basements from the last storm.

“I should be working right now,” said one resident. “You know it’s the holidays. And now we got to worry about all our stuff getting ruined.”

On Route 46 East in Wayne, just before the Willowbrook Mall, all lanes of traffic were impacted by water, and the conditions were expected to worsen and potentially result in the closure of the highway going eastbound.

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