7.54 inches of rain in Montclair — and a lot of recovery work ahead
By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
The number responsible for wreaking havoc on Montclair Wednesday night and into Thursday: 7.54.
That's how many inches of rain The National Weather Service estimates fell on Montclair during Ida — just a remnant of what had been a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall in Louisiana.
And by some measures, Montclair was lucky. Nearly a day after the storm, there hasn't been a single reported loss of life in Montclair — though Gov. Phil Murphy put the statewide total by that point at 23. Township power outages during the worst of the storm and aftermath numbered in the hundreds, not thousands. By 6 p.m. Thursday, PSE&G's online power map showed just 164 customers affected in Montclair, though nearly 10,000 were still out Essex County-wide. Montclair was spared the destructive tornadoes that touched down in parts of New Jersey further south.
Mayor Sean Spiller had warned it could take a while for those numbers to decline with many of the outages focused on small spots, instead of whole streets or neighborhoods. But it still shrank by hundreds over the course of just a few hours.
"Most of our streets are decent — there's mud and debris, but it wasn't crazy," he said. There were downed trees and power lines in some places, but Ida didn't bring Montclair the fierce winds of, say, superstorm Sandy.
What it did bring was flooding. Feet and feet of flooding in many basements, with Montclair's roads looking more like gushing rivers Wednesday night. It drowned areas of Montclair High School, Hillside Elementary School and Bradford Elementary School, just a week before fall classes are set to start — though district officials say they still expect to welcome students back Sept. 9. Some businesses throughout town closed for the day or longer; others opened late.
'Worst I've seen in 30 years' — Flooding at MHS
The Park Street YMCA — next to the Fullerton parking deck, where waters rose to the tops of cars and SUVs — late Thursday announced it didn't expect to reopen until after Labor Day. The Human Needs Food Pantry expected to remain closed into next week as well.
Montclair Film saw its home on Bloomfield Avenue devastated by the flood, it said on Facebook Thursday. Its classrooms and concourse level were badly damaged; the concourse level opens up to the Fullerton deck as well. But the organization said it was determined to still host the 10th annual Montclair Film Festival, currently scheduled for Oct. 21-30, and to reopen the shuttered Clairidge cinema in October.
"We appreciate the enduring support of our friends, patrons, members, donors, and volunteers, support that has given us the resolve to keep moving forward. We look forward to seeing you all again soon," Montclair Film wrote.
Skaters and other volunteers helped clean up the mess at Rand Park, where Montclair's temporary skatepark is located. Volunteers started bandying together to raise funds for those who'd suffered damages, collect food for those who need it and arrange neighbor-to-neighbor equipment loans.
And first-responders worked through the night and beyond.
'From one call to the next'
It would be a while before officials would have a complete handle on the totality of the incident — on how many calls they responded to, how many people they rescued from cars and homes, Deputy Fire Chief Robert Duncan said Thursday afternoon. He hadn't slept since the day before. Police Sgt. Terence Turner said he didn’t yet know how many incidents police had responded to during the storm, but calls were “well into the hundreds.”
"The incidents are ongoing," Duncan said mid-Thursday. "They come in so fast, and you go from one call to the next call."
The fire department was still working its way through about 150 calls for help with flooded basements, he said. Work at the school buildings was continuing as well. Then there were the scattered power lines and trees that were down. Spiller said there were five "major" trees that had fallen in the storm — including one on Edgemont Montessori School — and crews were working on their removal on Thursday.
Turner said there were several calls for open and missing manhole covers and debris in the roadway.
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The damage was being tracked for FEMA funding reimbursement applications, the mayor said.
Police had done several wellness checks, though some were for mistaken circumstances and no serious injuries had been discovered, Spiller said.
The township might consider more proactive means to start reaching out to seniors or other vulnerable residents, but first-responders mostly had their hands full responding to calls as they came in, he said.
"The good news is, many of those calls weren't as bad as we sometimes heard from a caller," he said.
And if the need arises to fill service gaps left as groups like Human Needs recover from the storm, Spiller said, the township could help facilitate connections with other similar entities in other towns.
Photographer feared for his life
Township Manager Timothy Stafford said Montclair's Water Bureau and Sewer Utility had also been sending crews to respond to multiple sewer backups, and were cleaning various sites and performing damage assessments Thursday. Public works crews cleared catch basins, installed barricades on roads and helped Montclair Police with road hazards during the storm — though Turner said mid-day Friday, there were no longer any roads closed.
The public works crews continued working to clear roadways of fallen trees and other debris Thursday as well, Stafford said.