Tri-State Towns, Already Soaked, Face Flood Threats from More Rain

Remnants of Lee threaten towns already trying to dry out from Irene.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New Jersey homes and businesses still drying out from last week's hurricane are now dealing with more flooding concerns. (Published Wednesday, Sep 7, 2011)

    Remnants from Tropical Storm Lee are posing flood threats in water-weary tri-state towns that are trying to clean up after rain from Hurricane Irene caused rivers to swell over their banks.

    In New York, sections of the Bronx River, Hutchinson River, Saw Mill River and Sprain Brook parkways were closed Wednesday, Westchester County police reported. Parts of Route 303 in Rockland County also were closed for a time but were later reopened.

    The National Weather Service says the New Jersey towns of Phillipsburg, Andover, Washington Township in Morris County and Lebanon have received more than 5 inches of rain within a 12-hour period.

    Flood warnings are posted along parts of the Passaic, Raritan, Rockaway, Pequannock, Millstone, Ramapo and Wanaque rivers. Major flooding is forecast for the Passaic River at Little Falls.

    The flooding in New York, combined with accidents on the Saw Mill Parkway, Interstate 287 and I-684, detoured drivers onto local roads, which quickly jammed in White Plains, Eastchester, Mount Vernon and elsewhere.

    At a gas station in Eastchester, Joclena Thomas, 22, of White Plains, said she was already late for her babysitting job in the Bronx.

    "I thought, 'Stay off the highway,' but this might be worse," Thomas said. "I guess you choose water or crowds."

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened a disaster recovery center in White Plains on Wednesday morning. Residents and businesses can get help filing for help with losses suffered in Hurricane Irene.

    More than 15,000 New Jersey residents have already filed claims with FEMA, officials said, and claims have been filed in every county.

    The northern part of the state — Bergen, Passaic and Morris counties — had the highest number of claims for far, with Bergen seeing more than 2,600 claims, FEMA regional spokesman Bill McDonnell said Tuesday.

    Fewer claims have been filed along the shore, which saw 1 million evacuate; only 14 in Cape May County, 84 in Atlantic and 15 in Ocean.

    Residents have 60 days from the time a disaster was declared to file for federal aid. The first declaration was Aug. 31; by Sunday, all 21 counties became eligible for aid. So far, $3 million in aid has been disbursed, officials said, and on average inspections are taking three days.

    "I'm very encouraged that money is starting to flow on the streets," Gov. Chris Christie said, adding that the damage from Hurricane Irene was the worst that the state has seen in over 100 years.

    More money may be coming. On Tuesday, two measures were passed in congressional subcommittees to help hurricane victims, including $6 billion in emergency funding for FEMA.

    Another subcommittee passed a bill allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $5 million on home buyouts for those living in the Passaic River Basin and $570,000 for flood warning systems there. Both measures are scheduled to be considered on Wednesday by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

    "Buying out homes from voluntary sellers will remove families from harm's way, create more open space for natural flood plains and mitigate expenses caused by flooding in the Passaic River Basin," said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.

    Earlier last month, Christie signed legislation to spend $12 million to acquire land in the flood-prone Passaic River Basin to use as recreation and conservation land. The governor said it would take even more money to buy out everyone in those areas, but that the time to offer buyouts was now — before people begin rebuilding.

    "For people who do want to get out, we should have to find a way to get them out," the governor said.