Hudson residents with Ida damage may get FEMA aid

As Hurricane Ida continued dumping her never-ending downpour on Kearny, residents Jaime Collins and Jacquelyn Villalba used towels to try and soak up the water edging under the front door, through window ledges and plumbing fixtures in the first-floor apartment they share on Arlington Avenue.

After 45 minutes of futile efforts, with the incoming water steadily rising, Collins and Villalba gave up.

“We evacuated, climbing through a window, and only carrying essentials, we trucked up to my sister and stayed with her overnight,” Collins said.

When Collins and Villalba went back to their apartment next day, “it was all covered in septic — we lost a bed, couch, shoes, clothes — everything,” she said. “We even found a fish on the floor.”

Collins and Villalba have insurance for fire and theft but not for flooding. They’re hoping to get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile, they’re looking for a new apartment.

Homeowners and renters who suffered losses like Villalba and Collins may now be in line for some government relief after all.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy pledged to get a disaster designation extended to Hudson County and on Sept. 10, the extension was granted.

“If you have homeowners or renters insurance, you should file a claim as soon as possible,” the Town of Kearny website posting said. “By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may be eligible for federal assistance.”

Residents should visit or download the FEMA smartphone app. Or they may call 800-621-3362 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., daily.

Applicants will be asked for a phone number, address at the time Ida struck and their current address (if different), social security number, a list of damage and losses and, if insured, the policy number or agent and/or company’s name. Applicants should take photos of damages and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage. They should also keep receipts from any purchases related to the cleanup and repair.

In just one hour, between 8 and 9 p.m., Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos reported at Tuesday night’s Town Council meeting, Ida dumped three inches of rain throughout the town – some parts of Kearny got as much as eight inches total.

Elaborating on the storm’s ferocity, Second Ward Councilman Richard Konopka – who works at the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission which treats Kearny’s wastewater – noted that as the storm raged, by 5 p.m. the flow of water into the Newark-based plant reached 278 million gallons a day – well above the “normal” flow rate of “just over 200 mgd.”

No question, said fellow Second Ward Councilman Peter Santana, that “the frustration for residents in the lower end of town, in particular, is bad. There’s just nowhere to send the water. It’s disheartening. The solution comes down to funding.”

Hopefully, Santos said, funding “to fully modernize our sewer system” on a regional basis can be included as part of the federal infrastructure bill now being debated by members of Congress. Particularly for low-lying areas, part of the solution can be installation of large underground water retention containers to hold enormous amounts of stormwater which can be gradually released into nearby bodies of water instead of backing up into residents’ homes.

The Kearny Fire Department was called out to aid drivers stuck in the flood waters and Fire Chief Joseph Mastandrea said firefighters rescued 16 people from stalled vehicles. An additional 45 cars abandoned by drivers were checked to make sure no one was trapped inside and 16 people were removed from high water at various locations, he said.

Police Chief George King said his department was so overwhelmed with calls for assistance and since the flooding made navigating local streets so difficult, priority was given to “life and safety” distress calls.

“I saw things I’ve never seen in my 35 years with the police department,” King said. 

Among Ida’s casualties was the U.S. Postal System’s Greater Newark Processing & Distribution Center on Harrison Avenue where two sections of the roof gave way, forcing the evacuation of some 300 postal workers and injuries to seven employees.

During and a few days after the storm, access to Harrison Avenue at the Rt. 7 junction was cut off due to flooding and several downed utility poles, bringing traffic along Rt. 7 to a crawl. Passaic Avenue was closed to traffic after a large sinkhole developed, causing sections of the county roadway to buckle. It has since re-opened pending repairs.

Some municipal facilities were scarred by Ida: the Kearny Police Department facility sustained water damage from infiltration, as did the Town Hall Annex, Santos said. And two recreation sites were declared off-limits for now.

Harvey Field will likely remain shut for at least three weeks and possibly longer, according to town Recreation Director Ralph Cattafi. Scheduled soccer games have been moved to alternate locations, he said.

Cattafi said the Oval “came out of (Ida) very well. It had no damage.” And it is available for practice and games.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York