RAHWAY — After Tropical Storm Irene struck New Jersey in August 2011, many municipalities never imagined they would have to handle flood type emergencies of the magnitude brought on by this storm. One of those cities struck hard was the City of Rahway.
With the south branch of the Rahway River and Robinsons Branch both converging into the tide influenced main portion of the Rahway River it was a perfect scenario for flooding should a major storm hit the area. Rainfall coming downstream met a raising tidal surge from the Rahway River stalling the water within the city. In the past certain areas of the city have flooded, but most of the residences have been razed and are no longer an issue when flooding occurs.
Once “Irene” passed and the city was heavily flooded, the police department and fire department improvised and evacuated dozens of homes utilizing whatever resources were available including front end loaders. Officers even put on their own chest waders and walked in waist to chest-high flowing water to check on and evacuate many homes.
During these types of storm events resources are stretched to the maximum. The fire department has a tremendous task of checking on downed wires and the police department answering alarm calls and calls for service. A post incident evaluation by Rahway Office of Emergency Management staff determined that the first responder had to come up with a more comprehensive plan to supplement these gaps. This plan included acquiring all the necessary equipment and training to complete the evacuations of the residents who are in flood prone areas.
The Rahway Flood Rescue Team was formed with volunteers from within and outside the Rahway Police Department. The response was overwhelming and more than 40 persons signed up. The first key piece of equipment was the purchase of an 8-wheeled amphibious Argo vehicle able to maneuver in almost any environment and carry six passengers. Two 14-foot inflatable boats with state of the art 25 hp four stroke outboard motors, one specifically for shallow water operation in flooded neighborhoods, were also purchased. The Rahway Public Works mechanics were requested to convert a city-owned Jeep into a highly functional semi–submersible vehicle having both the engine air intake and exhaust mounted above the roofline.
Training sessions were scheduled with all the vehicles and scenarios were presented for emergency water rescue and evacuation situations including injured and incapacitated parties. Additional safety equipment was also purchased to support the team including dry-suits, life vests, rescue lines, helmets and boots.
When Hurricane Sandy neared New Jersey, the police department and flood rescue team prepared. The Rahway Office of Emergency management had the city engineers map Rahway for potential flooding. They determined the areas that will be heavily flooded and were fairly confident the earthen dike behind City Hall holding back the Rahway River would most likely overflow in double digit depths causing entirely new areas of flooding never experienced within the City of Rahway. This necessitated mandatory evacuations for low-lying areas.
The flood team spent numerous hours going door to door warning the residents of the impending flood and ordered the evacuations. When the storm arrived and was in full swing the waters rose above the dike as predicted. The new areas flooded as well as many others and were experiencing five or more feet of running water in the street. Some homes had lost the first floor and the occupants were forced to retreat to the second floor. The team went into action immediately during this evacuation.
The first two persons assisted had driven their vehicles into flooded portions of the roadways and were stranded with water several feet deep outside their vehicles. The flood Jeep was utilized and the two drivers were taken to safety. Shortly after that the water was too deep for the Jeep, so the boats and Argo were launched and went door to door in several neighborhoods. Non-stop for approximately six hours and in the height of the super storm the team was actively evacuating residents from several neighborhoods at once.
In the end they were directly responsible for the evacuation of over 30 citizens from young children to seniors including a wheelchair-bound double-amputee in her 60s who was loaded and transported by boat while remaining in the wheelchair. This was rather challenging and a compliment to the training and commitment by Rahway Office of Emergency Management staff and the flood team. There were no injuries sustained to any officers or the evacuees and the equipment and officers involved exceeded the mission expectations.
The Rahway OEM’s recognition of the need, creation, training and use of the Flood Rescue Team was paramount in the first responder mission and most assuredly decreased the loss of life from the storm and its aftermath.
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