Four feet of floodwater had filled John Phelan's basement by the time he rushed in to rescue his dog from drowning in an animal crate.
In his three-story house on Main Street in Lumberton, the computer used for the family's window-washing business was ruined; the basement ceiling fell in.
Repairs had not yet begun on the $40,000 worth of damage when Phelan joined relatives in suing the owners of a series of dams whose collapse during a ferocious rainstorm devastated Burlington County in 2004.
YMCA Camp Ockanickon, the last of the defendants, agreed to a $2.15 million settlement yesterday as part of a case that was consolidated with others into a class-action suit representing 300 owners of flood-damaged properties.
The settlement marked a significant victory for the plaintiffs, who claimed the breach of three YMCA dams in Medford contributed to the failure of more dams downstream on the Rancocas Creek's southwest branch. Twenty-one dams failed and 31 were damaged during a storm that dumped a foot of rain on a single July day.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in Superior Court next month.
"It was a relief to us that we wouldn't have go to through a trial in order to bring about our point . . . so to know that it's now been settled and the end is coming, that's great," said Phelan, who lived with his wife, two teen sons, and mother at the time of the flood.
A YMCA attorney did not return a call seeking comment. The organization has not admitted liability in the matter.
"It's been quite a long time since July of 2004," said plaintiff attorney Carlo Scaramella. "We're already past the five-year mark and we're obviously very conscious of trying to get this case resolved as quickly as we could."
The settlement is subject to approval at a court hearing.
So far the property owners have won $9.2 million through settlements, including $425,000 from the Girl Scouts of Camden County last month. Further legal proceedings will decide how the money is divided.
Had the YMCA case gone to trial, the complex legal process to determine the organization's liability and also damage to individual properties would have been costly.
Plaintiff attorney Edward Petkevis said he had feared "we would wind up eating any potential recovery in the huge costs of trying to determine individual, home-by-home damages due to floodwaters."