Neighboring towns in northern New Jersey were inundated with water early Tuesday from an overflowing creek and gushing storm drains, forcing a frantic rescue effort to pluck residents from their homes and their roofs.
Local and county authorities said a levee or tidal gate had been breached in Moonachie. Residents in nearby Little Ferry said water came flowing out of storm drains. Gov. Chris Christie said search-and-rescue operations had already saved hundreds of lives in those towns before midday Tuesday.
In Moonachie, police Sgt. Tom Schmidt said water rose to 5 feet within 45 minutes, making roads impassable and stranding residents who thought they had already weathered the worst of Sandy.
The floodwaters flooded the police and fire departments, forcing them to relocate command centers to a business in a neighboring community.
Schmidt said rescuers had trouble using boats to carry out rescues because water levels were varying from several feet to only inches. Trucks were also used.
Mobile home park resident Juan Allen told The Associated Press that water overflowed a 2-foot-wall along a nearby creek, filling the area with 2 to 3 feet of water within 15 minutes and eventually as much as 5 feet.
"I saw trees not just knocked down but ripped right out of the ground. I watched a tree crush a guy's house like a wet sponge," Allen said.
He said rescuers moved in quickly with boats to get people out.
"There's no way you're going to be ready for something like this," he said.
In Little Ferry, residents reported water suddenly started gushing out of sewer drains late Monday night, and that within 90 minutes there was four feet of water in the road and entering houses.
"I looked out and the next thing you know, the water just came up through the grates. It came up so quickly you couldn't do anything about it. If you wanted to move your car to higher ground you didn't have enough time," said resident Leo Quigley, who with his wife was taken to higher ground by boat and later went to a shelter set up in a school gym.
Rescue efforts were also underway in southern New Jersey, where heavy flooding was reported in Toms River neighborhoods bordering the Barnegat Bay on both sides.
Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said his officers rescued five babies overnight from flooded homes, along with adults in the houses at the time.
Many roads are impassable and it's difficult for people, including emergency responders, to get in or out of those neighborhoods, Mastronardy said. He said the search-and-rescue effort was expected to last much of the day.