Montclair floods cause massive damage
By ERIN ROLL
Residents spent the early part of the week recovering from a flash flood that left basements deluged and cars stranded throughout the township over the weekend.
A fast-moving storm deposited up to three inches of rain on northeast New Jersey within a few hours on Aug. 10.
Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency for Bergen, Essex, Passaic, Monmouth and Ocean counties on Tuesday. The order authorizes the state Office of Emergency Management to provide aid to homeowners and municipal authorities in flood-affected areas.
Among the worst damage reported took place at the Studio Playhouse on Alvin Street, home to Montclair Studio Players, where flood waters surged up through drains and down a little-used driveway near the playhouse, breaking down two street-level doors into the basement.
The theater lost almost all of their stage sets and furniture.
Montclair Film was also badly flooded, with the cinema space now closed for about a month to undergo remediation, and many of the Summer Academy classes moved off-site.
The fire department received numerous calls about stranded cars, flooded basements and alarms, said Deputy Fire Chief Robert Duncan. One incident included rescuing a motorist from a stranded vehicle on Chestnut Street.
“When it rains like that, a lot of stuff happens,” Duncan said.
Stalled vehicles in flood waters, including under the trestle bridge near Watchung Plaza, were a problem throughout town.
Duncan said last Saturday’s flooding, although short-lived, was reminiscent of Hurricane Floyd, which caused massive flooding around New Jersey in 1999.
“That was just days of pump calls,” Duncan recalled.
Duncan said several vehicles became stalled in flood waters over the weekend, including under the trestle bridge near Watchung Plaza.
The flooding resulted in the cancellation of the Montclair Jazz Festival, which was to have taken place Saturday in Nishuane Park.
Katya Wowk, the township communications director, said it was too early to have a full report on the extent of the damage, since the Department of Community Services was still doing an assessment.
Bloomfield Avenue hit hard
Flooding was particularly bad on Bloomfield Avenue, where a surge of nearly two feet of water covered the main artery of the Montclair Center business district area for a time.
Israel Cronk, executive director of the business district, said the businesses closest to the intersection of Church Street, South Park Street and Bloomfield Avenue were especially hard-hit, including Culture Couture, Java Love, Lululemon and CVS.
“Excluding snow, I’ve never seen anything this bad with flooding,” Cronk said. “You go to the street and it’s a foot and a half, two feet of whitecap water.”
At the Montclair Film building on Bloomfield, the main cinema room was badly damaged. The floor damage caused water to leak into the ceiling in the Education Center on the basement level, which also took on water from the stairwell. Executive Director Tom Hall said they were still getting an estimate for mold mitigation and other costs.
“Our team is in good spirits and ready to roll up our sleeves,” Hall said. “Designing and renovating our building took two years and the learning experience of that process gives us a good feeling about what steps to take, working with our old friends in the community, and getting this done as quickly as possible. This was very unexpected, but we’ll be making a few changes as well, as it seems that weather-related planning should be front of mind for everyone now.”
The cinema space will be closed for about a month, but the Summer Academy classes will continue, many of them off-site.
A team from Montclair Center was helping with cleanup through the business district.
Cronk expected that he would hear from more business owners as damages were assessed throughout the week.
Special bulk waste, curb-side collections will be held throughout town on Saturday, Aug. 18. In addition, residents may bring flood-related bulk waste to the Department of Community Services yard at 219 South Fullerton Ave. between 2 and 4 p.m. from through Friday, Aug. 17.
Studio Players ‘super determined’ to recover
The damage at Studio Playhouse was discovered when board member Janet Sales, who had been conducting a summer camp at the theater, came back on Sunday to pick up some items.
Water came up to about four feet high in the basement, and Cristiano said that the water was a giant swirling pool of spilled paint and debris. The losses included stage sets, the entire collection of vintage furniture, a collection of Persian rugs, and filing cabinets of historical records and photos.
“It’s pretty much a disaster,” said Laura Byrne Cristiano, one of the Studio Players’ directors.
“We are extremely lucky that no one was in the facility at the time, and no one was injured,” read a statement on the players’ website.
One bright spot at Studio Playhouse came when the owner of a local disposal company agreed to lend the theater a dumpster and then haul the refuse away for free.
The theater’s seating area, stage and costume areas were unaffected, so Cristiano said it was possible that the Studio Players could continue with rehearsals at least.
Studio Players’ first show is a children’s show planned for the fall. “So more than anything right now, people are super determined,” Cristiano said.
Minor flooding at Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Bellevue Library
At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair on Church Street, the basement level flooded with about six inches of water, according to office manager Jaclyn Puleo. That level houses the congregation’s preschool classrooms and offices.
Puleo said she didn’t think the building lost any furniture. But anything paper that was sitting on the floor at the time, including children’s books, had to be thrown away.
As of Monday, the water had been pumped out, and Puleo said volunteers were trying to get everything dried out. They were looking at bringing in a professional company to help with the cleanup.
Toney’s Brook overflowed its banks, covering the grounds of the George Inness Annex at Montclair High School in brown flood water. By Monday, the flood waters had receded.
The Montclair Public Library’s main branch was unaffected “except for our perennially flooded parking lot,” said Assistant Director Janet Torsey. The Bellevue Avenue branch experienced some minor flooding on its lower level. Torsey said the plaza in front of the library appeared to have flooded, and water seeped in under the door. No books were damaged; Torsey said the water stopped before it got as far as the shelves.
“And we’re going to clean those carpets,” she said.