Home Explodes in Flood Zone in North New Jersey

August 30, 2011

A house exploded in an evacuated neighborhood along a Hurricane Irene flooded river in northern New Jersey early Monday, sending a cloud of smoke over the area as firefighters sought to contain the flames from a boat.

Bill Hartman, who lives nearby, told News 12 New Jersey he bolted up in bed as his house and windows shook because of the blast. He said he saw a “huge ball of thick smoke.”

Pompton Lakes Police Lt. Ronald Thomas said it was assumed no one was in the house because of the evacuation, and there were no reports of any injuries.

Natural gas service had not been turned off in the neighborhood, he said.

Television news footage showed the house was leveled.

Pompton Lakes is one of the areas of northern New Jersey expected to see record flooding because three rivers surround the town.

River levels were expected Monday to hit records around the state, bringing a second of misery even with Irene long gone.

More than 712,000 homes and businesses remained without power as fleets of utility trucks fanned out across the state, where fallen trees brought down power lines in neighborhood after neighborhood.

With the heavy volume of work and obstacles presented by flooded roads and downed trees, utilities said it could take up to a week to restore power to everyone. That left people fretting about the contents of their freezers, living by candlelight and trying hard to preserve their cellphone batteries so they could maintain a link to the rest of the world.

NJ Transit trains were idled by the floodwaters, and Gov. Chris Christie urged people who didn’t have to be at work on Monday to stay home because so many highways also were impassable.

Neighborhoods from Mount Holly near Philadelphia to Hoboken outside New York City were evacuated as streams and rivers rose. When Trenton’s Assunpink Creek flooded, it submerged the train tracks in the state capital which are used by Amtrak, NJ Transit and a regional commuter rail service.

The Raritan River washed over Route 18 in New Brunswick. The worst for the Passaic River through Fairfield was not expected until perhaps Tuesday.

On Sunday, the hardest-hit areas included the usual flood-prone areas like Lincoln Park, a semi-rural Morris County community where a series of creeks, streams and rivers rose quickly Sunday.

A fawn was seen dog-paddling, and many residents found their homes surrounded by water. Some were taken out on boats. Amy Dilk’s adult children left with the fire department while she stayed behind to tend to her animals.

“Right now I got a llama, a sheep and two goats up on my deck. The turkey found a higher perch somewhere. We flood, but never like this. The water just came up so fast,” said Dilk, 48. “I waited till daylight and walked out the horse and the miniature donkey. I was walking the horse through the flood water and she caught my pants and pulled me under. That’s a sensation you don’t want to feel.”

Her 13-year-old neighbor, William Pillus, and his 10-year-old brother, Michael, waded through the floodwaters, which reached their chests, and got onto a motorized go-cart they had parked on dry ground, zipping away to pick up some takeout Chinese food.

“I never saw water come up that fast,” William said. “The sheep was floating. It looked like a marshmallow going up and down, up and down, up and down in the water.”

Irene was just the third hurricane in 200 years to make landfall in New Jersey. Officials said it was responsible for at least one death, a 20-year-old Salem County woman who drove into a flash flood.

The winds were not as destructive as feared but did take a fearsome toll on trees left vulnerable by saturated ground.

New Jersey Transit said its commuter trains would not run Monday, except for the Atlantic City route. Commuters could use buses or light-rail. PATH resumed service at 4 a.m.

Newark Liberty International Airport, closed during the storm, began accepting arriving flights again at 6 a.m. Monday, and departures were scheduled to resume at noon.

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