New Jersey residents in disbelief over flood damage

SPARTA, N.J. - The Musconetcong River continued to rise on Monday, bringing a new round of evacuations to northwestern New Jersey two days after torrential thunderstorms washed out bridges, roads and dams.

''The river is expected to maintain its crest peak for two to three days. So this is far from over,'' said Red Cross spokeswoman Cathy Derechailo said.

The agency expected evacuations in downriver areas such as Allamuchy and Byram would bring up to 200 people to its emergency shelter at Hackettstown High School, she said. Some residents of Hackettstown were also being evacuated.

Intermittent showers continued Sunday and Monday, adding to the misery that came Saturday when severe storms stalled over the area, bringing about 8 to 10 inches of rain. Earlier estimates had as much as 14 inches of rain falling.

''That 14 inches is probably high,'' said David Robinson, state climatologist at Rutgers University. Still, a storm that drops up to 10 inches of rain is ''a one in 100-year event,'' Robinson said. Fourteen inches is a ''one in 500-year storm.''

No injuries have been reported, but dozens of homes have suffered water damage.

The cost was expected to surpass $100 million and Gov. Christie Whitman asked federal officials Monday to consider declaring parts of the area a disaster area.

Among those evacuated Monday were 800 children at the Jefferson Lake day camp in Byram, moved because of worries about the integrity of a nearby dam.

The river, which flows out of Sussex County and borders Morris and Warren counties, was rising a foot an hour on Monday and was expected to close more roads, Derechailo said.

While that river was rising, people along the lakes that dot the region had a different experience.

Residents on Seneca Lake once enjoyed a small, private body of water. A dam break emptied the lake, and now their Sussex County homes surround a hole that reeks of rotting fish.

It was ''just a big hole, and the dock floating away,'' said 43-year-old Ray Brunetti.

Other dams that have failed include those at Hawthorne Lake in Sparta, Shawnee Lake in Jefferson, and Lake Tomahawk in Byram, state officials said. In Stanhope, two sides of the small dam on Furnace Pond washed away Sunday and the surge broke through the windows of a nearby paper factory.

Under watch were dams at Saginaw Lake in Ogdensburg, and Sunset Lake in Sparta, State Police spokesman John Hagerty said.

A freight line running parallel to Route 517 in Sussex County, the New York Susquehanna & Western Railway, was closed at 1 a.m. Monday because its bed was undermined, he said.

In hard-hit Jefferson Township, some residents were able to begin cleanup efforts Monday morning.

Bob Mlynarz sprayed mud off boat parts in a soggy, muddy back yard. Several inches of water still stood in the yard along Lake Hopatcong. On Saturday his dock was destroyed, and several homes along the lake also lost docks.

Water flooded his garden and washed his dock from its mooring. Still, Mlynarz said he is doing better than his neighbors.

''I just have a mess to clean up. I don't have any major damage,'' he said.

Lake waters were receding, but still pooled in back yards.

Sparta, which got 14 inches of rain, was one of the hardest-hit areas.

Residents who live in a small section of Main Street were evacuated Sunday because fire officials feared a mudslide down a mountain that rises above the township. Firefighters ferried residents across metal ladders and ropes set up across fast-moving currents.

Several homes were blocked on one side by mud from another slide and on the other by a road that had turned into a brown river. One firefighter carried a small, white dog in his arms while balancing himself on a tree trunk that had fallen across a stream.

''I'm feeling relieved that I'm on this side and that my kids are here,'' said Tori Monahan, 33, with her daughters, Katie, 1, and Kelly, 3.


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