As Montclair reels from Ida’s mess, ‘this has brought everyone together’
The last thing Enrique Favaro was hoping to see was rain.
He'd been visiting his brother, Ruben Favaro, in Montclair, from Arizona — where there's been a strong monsoon season.
But by the time the brothers left Mesob on Bloomfield Avenue Wednesday night, they were in waist-deep water. Floods from Ida had passed the exhaust pipe of Ruben Favaro's car, so the two instead walked to Favaro's home on Oak Place, situated across from Toney's Brook.
There, water was in the basement, at first small puddles. By the time the brothers got pumps set up a half-hour later, it was ankle-deep.
Ruben Favaro lent Sandra Kitson and other neighbors a pump. Kitson lives in the same house where she grew up, and she remembers water often coming up to the front steps when she was a child — "but there was no going out last night," she said Thursday morning.
Instead, she stayed inside and prayed.
"I went through Sandy, but this was worse," she said. "I don't know if it's climate change and everything is extreme now."
But Kitson worries the storm that turned Montclair roads into rivers is a sign of things to come — and that infrastructure won't be able to keep up.
In her neighborhood, she said, people come and go — "but this has brought everyone together."
Emergency officials were still getting a handle on the extent of the damage midday Thursday.
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 Montclair Fire Department was also working through a massive backlog of calls for flooded basements.
"Looking at our computer system, I would estimate over 100 flood-related issues and over 50 disabled/abandoned vehicles," Turner wrote in an email to Montclair Local. Several cars had to be removed from the ground level of the North Fullerton parking deck, where several feet of water immersed vehicles.
Turner said there were several calls for open and missing manhole covers and debris in the roadway.
"I'd like to give you exact locations, but it was literally all over town," he said.
But there were no injuries, and as of Thursday, no roads remained closed.
'Cars can be replaced, but lives can't'
David Reeves Jr. and Ernie Branca, two Montclair parks employees, were cleaning up debris at the skate park at Rand Park Thursday morning. They said floods normally only reach the park's basketball courts, but Wednesday night, water surged farther — to the skate park, the tennis courts and the children's playground at Rand.
A Montclair Local reporter asked how the two workers' own homes fared.
"No one ever asks about us. We have to come here to work and then come home to our houses. People don't consider what we left to come here in blizzards and snowstorms," Branca said. "I have a wife and two children at home. We have to drop everything to come here. It's appreciated when people ask about us."
Reeves said as bad as Ida's impact on the Northeast was, it's "a small toothache compared to what they have in Louisiana," where the storm made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. "Just like you thought about us, I think about them. ... Compared to what they have, this is nothing. Cars can be replaced, but lives can't."
Skate Essex said on Facebook the courts in Montclair would need "a lot of work" and encouraged donations to its wish list of items to keep the park clean.
Businesses getting a handle on damage
Businesses across Montclair were picking up the pieces as well.
The Wine Guys on Bloomfield Avenue began flooding around 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, manager Ricardo Patel said. After a sewer grate clogged outside the shop, the water quickly moved into the store, he said.
“After 15 minutes, all the water was under the door,” Patel said. “I was trying to open the door to get out, but I could not get out. I was stuck inside.”
Patel said he was able to escape via a back door shared with Samba Montclair, which also was experiencing flooding. He was unable to drive all the way home and parked at the CVS Pharmacy on Claremont Avenue, where he stayed until the flooding subsided around 2 a.m., he said.
The store's basement flooded and more than 500 cases of wine were ruined, Patel said.
At Ani Ramen, set to open this weekend on Bloomfield Avenue, flooding in the store may be a major setback, general contractor Vincent Priore said. Priore is a partner at Picco Partners Construction.
"It's hard to tell damage right now," Priore said. "This morning was supposed to be the final inspection."
With four feet of flooding in the basement, causing electrical damage and damage to restaurant equipment, and a few inches of water on the main floor, the team is focused on damage control. They spent the morning ripping up protective floor coverings, Priore said.
“Hopefully the wood floor is salvageable and we can just sand it and stain it," he said. "But I don’t know. We have to assess it, get a remediation company to confirm there’s no mold.”
One of Priore's employees got stuck in the restaurant Wednesday night and was only able to get out once the flooding dispelled late at night, he said.
Chris Keim of Halcyon Brasserie on Walnut Street was standing partway out on the restaurant's steps Tuesday morning. He said it had a lot of damage in the basement, primarily used for storage. The restaurant borders Toney's Brook.
"We've seen bad floods here, but nothing like this," Keim said.
The Dry Goods Refillery on Bellevue Avenue said late Wednesday night on Facebook it was postponing its planned grand opening to assess damage and protect its customers and staff.
'A lot of it is internal'
It's hard to get a full picture of the scope of the damage from Ida, Councilman David Cummings, representing Montclair's Fourth Ward, said. When he drove around his ward most streets seemed fine once the waters had receded, though he knows some streets in other parts of town were hit even harder. He saw a tree down on Draper Terrace, but not extensive external damage.
But the councilman said he's been getting messages from people who are suffering flooding in their homes — "a lot of it is internal." He said he's hopeful insurance will be able to take care of many of the losses many people are incurring.
"When you totally assess it, no loss of life — compared to some other cities and towns, we did well. But I know that some areas in town have been hit particularly hard," he said.
Cummings encouraged people who don't know what resources may be available to contact the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp. He said the MNDC could connect people with shelters and clothing.
"I hate to say that we were lucky, because of the amount of damage in people's homes," he said.
He cautioned that it's still early — and the full impact of the storm is not yet known. He also credited first-responders for a response that went through the night and continued into Thursday.
Mayor Sean Spiller said on Facebook Thursday morning there were no major injuries in the storm. First responders had made several rescues from flooded vehicles, he said.
Cleanup crews would continue working on debris and downed trees Thursday, he said. About 120 people were on a Montclair Fire Department assistance list for help with flooded basements.
Residents with vehicles that were abandoned and towed could call the Montclair Police Department non-emergency number at 973-744-1234, he said.
Four school buildings suffered damage, the mayor said. His message didn’t specify which ones, but said school officials were working to assess the damage. Fire department members were pumping water out of Montclair High School Thursday morning.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis started a private fundraiser overnight Wednesday into Thursday, seeking to support businesses and residents affected by the extraordinary flooding. As of 1 p.m. Thursday, it had raised nearly $10,000.
An earlier version this post misidentified Enrique Favaro's car as his brother's car in a photo caption. This post also incorrectly stated Sandra Kitson lent Ruben Favaro a pump; Favaro lent the pump to Kitson.
— With reporting by Kate Albright, Talia Wiener and Louis C. Hochman