Looking back on my terrifying night when Ida hit NJ one year ago
I cannot believe it’s only been one year since the night I didn’t think I was going to live through. The night Ida hit New Jersey.
There’s been a lot that happened in my life personally that I suppose has made it feel much longer. Honestly? I would have sworn Ida hit New Jersey with a vengeance three years ago Sept. 1, not one.
Of course, we had been following the storm all afternoon. My broadcast partner Bill Doyle and I along with our producer Kylie Moore stayed on top of it and gave frequent updates in addition to the traffic and weather reports.
But there was really not much more to do than that in the hours we were on the air. That’s because it was 7 o’clock just as we got off the air and were in our cars to head home that it really hit full force. And it hit in a manner that for much of New Jersey and certainly even more so in my area of Hunterdon County was absolutely devastating.
Ultimately they determined Hunterdon County received 11 inches of rain that night in just a few short hours.
I knew what flash flooding was but I had never really driven in it before. To get home out of the Trenton area I have to take 31 north. As I got onto that state highway it was just heavy rain and nothing out of the usual for a bad storm. But it intensified very quickly and as I got just north of Pennington, flash flood waters rose around me.
It couldn’t have happened in a worse spot. There are stretches of 31 that have businesses and parking lots and some high ground that you could pull into. There are other stretches that are surrounded by nothing but woods with nowhere to pull over.
This is where I kept hitting the worst of the water. It came up so quickly that you didn’t know if the lay of the land would be higher ground ahead and that you would be better off to press on or if you’d be safer to turn back.
But the water was already so deep that it was one of those situations where stopping to turn around and losing the forward momentum of a vehicle could have been just enough to leave you stalled and stranded in rising flood waters.
I pressed on.
I’m here to tell it, so in hindsight I suppose I made all the right decisions. But they were difficult.
I would get into a stretch of 31 with water on the road but not very deep as you would pass businesses closed for the night. Should you stop there and risk the water getting higher? Or since the road seemed better do you press on and try to make it to the safety of your home to be with your family?
I pressed on, and it happened several times where in desolate areas I was right back in the thick of things with flood water so deep it was rising to my headlights. I would find out later that the force of the water actually took my license plate and bent it at a 90-degree angle.
I remember one point in the dark with my heart pounding debris like tree limbs 6 inches thick were floating right by my car.
There were several times I could feel my Explorer was about to lose traction and I knew if it happened I was a goner. I’m not a strong swimmer whatsoever. If I were in a car that got swept away and had to exit the vehicle in flood water there’s not a doubt in my mind I would not have survived that night.
Thirty poor souls did not. It was a staggering death toll for what was only the remnants of a hurricane.
And their families experienced the pain that I only briefly worried my children would. So really this is a nothing of a story. I am fine. I only danced on the brink.
I did get stranded on a highway along with other vehicles that couldn’t go north, couldn’t go south, and could not enter 202 off of 31, surrounded by flood waters on all sides. It took me a 7 1/2 hours to finally make it home that fateful night.
If you’d care to read the full story (there’s so much more than I just shared) I wrote about it back then and you can find it here . I still can’t believe it’s been only a year.
I also can’t believe I still remember what kept playing over and over in my mind as I was so close to the edge of my car being swept away. It was a line from the movie “The Perfect Storm,” based on the true story about an ill-fated fishing boat whose crew was lost at sea. As the ship was being taken by the ocean and the men were about to drown, one said to another, “this is going to be hard on my little boy.”
Thank God my kids didn’t have to go through that. But for the thirty families who did, I have no words. I’m just so sorry.
Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.
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