Northeast Storm Causes Flash Floods

Monday, August 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPARTA, N.J. (AP) — Residents on Seneca Lake once enjoyed a small, private body of water in the northernmost section of the state. Now their homes surround an empty hole that reeks of rotting fish.

The severe storm system that stalled over northern New Jersey on Saturday brought so much rain that the dam on Seneca Lake burst, emptying hundreds of gallons of water in an hour that evening.

No injuries were reported and no hazardous materials were released — but all that can be seen near the empty lake now is police tape. It was ``just a big hole, and the dock floating away,'' said 43-year-old Ray Brunetti.

On Monday state officials said they plan to release early estimates of the flood damage, which was concentrated in Sussex, Morris and Warren counties.

In Sussex County alone, the storm caused about $166 million worth of damage, said Phil Morlock, the county's health and public safety administrator.

Morlock said $80 million of that total was damage to bridges and roads. The rest was to private property, including in Newton, where water mains were destroyed.

Emergency personnel didn't have much time to dwell on the cost, however, as they continued rescue efforts throughout Sunday.

Sparta was one of the hardest-hit areas. Three roads and three bridges were destroyed by the torrential downpours, which dumped 14 inches of rain on the township, said Police Sgt. Russell Smith.

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.

Steve Wille, a Red Cross volunteer who has lived here for 30 years, said he'd never seen anything like Saturday's storm.

``We've all seen sheets of rain for five, 10, 15 minutes. This continued for hour after hour after hour after hour,'' he said.

Josh Osowski, 26, was one of the area's many residents who couldn't believe what had happened. In Franklin, Sussex County, water was still up to the front porches of houses Sunday morning.

``Seeing people row boats to their houses, that was pretty crazy,'' he said.


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