Much flood cleanup ahead for southern NJ

PITTSGROVE TWP., N.J. - August 15, 2011

Salem County Public Works Director Jeff Ridgway says several roads are flooded, some partially washed away and one bridge sunk more than 5 feet during Sunday's storm.

Elmer, Pittsgrove and Bridgeton were among the hardest hit.

Pittsgrove was under a state of emergency Sunday night. Mayor Linda DuBois said officials weren't taking any chances.

"This is the worst that we've ever seen. I've been an elected official for 22 years, and their telling me that it's the worst in more than 40 years anybody can remember," said Mayor DuBois.

The pumps were running, but they were of little help to Anderson's Country store. Water continued to flow into the basement.

"It's total devastation," said Kaz Omura. "The complete cellar is about filled up right now."

Julie Chandler and her mother Barbara Hill were forced out of their Mantua, Gloucester County home on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. when the water was already up to their waist.

"It was bad. I've been here 40 years and it's bad," said Chandler.

"The water came up, it's all in the house, everything's destroyed. There's nothing left," said Hill.

At John Smashey's home, he had just moved the boxes in after finally recovering from flooding in April. Talk about bad timing.

"Out of a $63,000 dollar loss, I got $4,000. Now I have new cabinets, stove, refrigerator and all that's shot again," he said.

In Bridgeton, officials say a dam in Seeley Lake breached on Sunday afternoon. About 75 people voluntarily evacuated.

Elmer farmer Amanda Coombs says the 9 and a half inches of rain that pounded her family's farm Sunday has ruined at least half of the 60 acres of potatoes growing there.

"The water raised the potatoes out of the ground. They were actually floating. They'll rot. They'll turn mushy," Amanda said.

"They can only tolerate so much water before they just rot in the ground," fellow farmer Jennifer Coombs said.

This is prime harvest season for potatoes, but Jennifer says farmers are now dealing with disaster. Potatoes can't grow in the muck left behind by the rain.

Here's an example of what's happening: The part of the potato that stayed buried in the dirt looks brown and normal, but the side where the soil was washed away is already turning green. The soup and potato chip companies they supply do not want spuds that are discolored.

At this point, the ground is still so saturated the Coombs can't do anything. They have to let the fields dry out for at least a couple days before they can even attempt to bring in equipment.

"It's just hard on the men, hard on our equipment; mud is just never easy to work with," Jennifer said.

Dave Brooks of Dusty Lane Farms in Upper Pittsgrove is worried about his 240 acres of processing tomatoes.

"It's lying on the ground and when the plant takes up so much moisture over such a short period of time, it'll just saturate the tomatoes.," Brooks said.

Dave, an 8th generation farmer, says he won't lose his whole crop, but will take a hit.

Elmer farmer Kristen Hitchen had 2.5 to 3 feet of water sitting in parts of her 250 acre cornfield during the storm.

Some farmers will take losses in the tens of thousands of dollars because of the flooding, which has damaged crops and delayed the harvest. For them, a long dose of sun to dry out their fields can't come soon enough.

Meanwhile, New Jersey's rivers and streams are mostly in good shape despite storms that dumped almost a foot of water on Sunday.

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly says there are only three places above flood levels: the Maurice River in Cumberland County, the Millstone River in Somerset and streams around Lincoln Park in Morris County.

Much of the weekend flooding affected roadways with poor drainage.

Meteorologist Dean Iovino says the Garden State will see showers and isolated thunderstorms Monday, but not as heavy as Sunday. Showers will become even more isolated on Tuesday before drying up on Wednesday.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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