Henri’s wake: Homes destroyed, many without flood insurance
MONROE – Sheila McCue left the Jersey Shore on Saturday, ahead of the arrival of the outer bands of Tropical Storm Henri in the state, for what seemed like the safe harbor of her home in the Rossmoor Village 55+ adult community.
McCue is now without a house or car, courtesy of driving rains that flooded sections of southern Middlesex County and other parts of the state.
“The irony is I was at Long Beach Island on Saturday morning, leaving after spending the week at the Shore,” McCue said. “And I said to my family, ‘I’m not worried about this storm that’s coming through. I live inland. Everything will be fine.’ Famous last words, right?”
With the worst of the storm heading toward Long Island, N.Y., or even Rhode Island, McCue headed to sleep Saturday night.
“I woke up to 3 inches of water in my home, and it just kept rising,” she said. “And it rose right up to my kitchen table level. And I was sitting on my kitchen counter with my feet in the sink waiting for rescue, and the fire department came and rescued me. The water receded hours later, but my house is totaled.”
The Monroe Police Department was also busy Sunday, reporting at least a half-dozen water rescues of people trapped in their cars.
“In some points, you’re wading. Next thing you know you’re stepping off a curb, and you can’t see where you’re going. It’s full of mud,” said officer Nicholas Lafata.
“Our main priority was just getting the people out of the cars. You start seeing them fog up, so you know someone’s in there. You open their door and it’s already, they’re sitting in it,” Lafata said. “We just try to get everyone to dry land and high-water vehicles and get them to a safe spot.”
Officer Michael Steele said he had a bad feeling about the weather impacts having seen the radar forecasts on Saturday night. Within 10 minutes of his shift starting at 6 a.m. Sunday, water rescues began – including in Rossmoor.
“We found two people who were struggling in maybe thigh-high water. We assisted them out of the community, jumped a couple fences, made our way back into the street, where the water was now maybe chest-high,” Steele said. “And it was raging. We were dodging dumpsters, and there was trash flowing. It was disgusting. But we got them to the guardrail. We held onto them. And we pulled them out..”
The floods in Rossmoor hit in the place in Middlesex County that the Census Bureau in 2020 rated as having the lowest community resilience in terms of recovering from a disaster, with 65% of residents in the tract three or more risk factors that make it a challenge to mitigate those impacts.
This year’s ratings rate parts of New Brunswick and Perth Amboy as more challenged, depending on the metric used.
Around 95 of the 2,303 in Rossmoor were flooded, said Jane Balmer, general manager of the Rossmoor Community Association. Some places reported wet flooring, while others had 3 feet of water in their unit, she said.
“It’s recurred a couple of times now, but it’s more widespread this time than it’s been in the past,” she said. “… It caused damage in places that were not expected.”
A steady stream of residents approached Balmer to talk about next steps before and after a visit to the community on Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy and Monroe Mayor Stephen Dalina.
“Well, we let them know how sorry we are that this happened, there’s a lot of compassion as far as that’s concerned, and try to explain what we can take care of what they need to do,” Balmer said.
“If they lost a vehicle, they need to call their auto insurance. If they lost all their furniture, they need to check with their agent to see if they have flood insurance and things like that,” she said. “We’re trying to help people as much as we can and get this process going to start to remediate the units.”
Murphy said Monroe and its neighbors got crushed by the weather. He said he spoke about the storm Saturday with President Joe Biden and Sunday with the chief administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Locally, county and state, we will stay at this to do whatever it is we need to do to get people back on their feet. We’ll work with the feds,” Murphy said. “Pat (Callahan of the New Jersey State Police) and I were just discussing the fact the FEMA process has already kicked off.”
Dalina said eight Monroe residents who couldn’t return to their homes slept Sunday night at the county’s senior center in the township.
“Helmetta, Spotswood, Jamesburg, West Windsor, Cranbury – all experiencing unparalleled disaster that we’ve never seen before here in Middlesex County,” Dalina said.
McCue has family living in one of the parts of Rossmoor that didn’t flood so is staying with them. Her sister-in-law, Cory Wanzor, was among those saying she doesn’t have flood insurance – something that Murphy said he heard from a number of residents during his tour.
“I just purchased my house and they told us you’re not supposed to buy flood insurance, we’re not in a flood zone,” Wanzor said. “So, nobody here has flood insurance. And they tell you that at your closing, that you don’t need flood insurance.”
Balmer said she’s afraid that many people don’t have flood insurance but said that wasn’t the recommendation from the Rossmoor association.
“No, they’re never advised not to get,” Balmer said. “If you live on a second story, I don’t know that you need flood insurance. But it’s been in our Rossmoor news. It’s also been expressed by our agent many times. And we also when new people move in, they get a letter from our agent, and that’s one of the things that they encourage people to get is flood insurance.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.