Dangerous water levels may have receded in South Jersey, but for the three counties hardest hit by the mid-June storm, the recovery efforts are far from finished.
Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties last Tuesday each submitted their preliminary damage assessments to the state. Gloucester County estimated $4 million in public damage, Burlington County $3 million, and Camden County $2 million. Those figures do not include damage to private property, such as a home.
If the state reaches its $13 million public damage threshold, Governor Phil Murphy can formally petition for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s important to recognize the fact that in the midst of a disaster, unfortunately, people have suffered a loss,” said Dennis McNulty, emergency management coordinator for Gloucester County, where Westville and Greenwich were most affected. “This is a place where government can and should and has stepped up.… [They’re] doing everything they can to assist those who have lost.”
Diane Concannon, communications director for the Red Cross New Jersey Region, said the organization has distributed 510 clean-up kits — which contain items such as mops, buckets, bleach, and gloves — across the three counties. More than 490 meals and snacks were served and 230 cases of water distributed with the help of more than 50 volunteers.
In Southampton Township, Burlington County, where the Rancocas Creek was at its highest levels since 2004, many homes are uninhabitable after the mid-June storm, which brought more than five inches of rain. A weekend storm, which brought about two inches of rain to portions of the three counties, did not cause additional problems in these area, according to emergency management officials.
“It wasn’t enough to stir up the Rancocas...they thankfully didn’t experience another repeat of what happened there a couple of weeks ago, but it did get close to the flood stage,” said Jonathan O’Brien, a meterologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
Orly Buday and her husband, Larry Foster, are used to the floods. Their first experience was in 2004, just months after purchasing their Southampton home. Then when Hurricane Irene passed through in 2011, they had to leave their home for nine months.
Buday and Foster and their two children, ages 15 and 12, are once again displaced from their East Mae Avenue home, about 100 feet from the creek, because of the June storm.
It’s a stark site. There was two feet of water in the home. The family has gutted the first floor of the house after an outdoor oil tank flipped over during the storm and a blend of oil and flood water contaminated the dwelling. Only one room on the second floor has electricity. Oil and water have stained the first-floor walls.
“We don’t want to have to live through this again,” Buday said. “We really don’t.”
The storm caused about $180,000 in damage, Buday said, citing figures from a public adjuster. The family is without a permanent home and the children are staying with friends.
Jennifer Roussel said her Cedar Water Road home, which was not flooded, was “an island” on June 20. Of the five homes on her street, only two remain occupied after the storm.
Roussel and her neighbors were advised by local agencies to avoid using water until it was tested, a process that could cost them between $400 to $500, she said. For now, she and her husband cook with bottled water and haul their dirty clothes to the laundromat.
Julie Buser, Roussel’s neighbor, ordered a well test, which cost her $250. She pays $340 a month for flood insurance and just paid $273 to pump out her septic tank in the aftermath of the floods.
She criticized Southampton’s failure to clean up the creek, which is littered with trees, and the lack of repairs to a nearby dam for increasing the likelihood of flooding.
“I don’t have the extra money to put out for lack of whatever parties are … supposed to be doing their jobs and aren’t. I pay my taxes, and this is what my taxes should be going toward,” Buser said. “There’s no care for what’s down here. We’re like the forgotten ones.”
She praised the efforts of residents like Foster, who in March organized along with 20 other Southampton residents who live along the north branch of the creek and presented their concerns about water levels. Foster says officials responded by saying it was the county’s problem.
In 2017, Buday said she and her husband appealed to the township to provide funds for their house to be raised, citing frequent flood damage.
But the township, she said, denied their request, stating that it does not maintain records on flood damage and could not verify that their property had been severely affected by past floods.