House Explodes in Pompton Lakes Flood Zone

Hurricane Irene flooding complicated the response to explosion

Monday, Aug 29, 2011  |  Updated 4:03 PM EDT
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Pompton Lakes House Fire

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Pompton Lakes House Fire

A house in the middle of a flood zone in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey exploded early Monday.
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A house exploded in an evacuated flood zone early Monday, one of the most dramatic moments in New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Irene, which led to record flooding, caused widespread power outages and was being blamed for at least four deaths.

The residents of the house on Lincoln Avenue smelled gas and ran out moments before the home was decimated in an explosion.

Pompton Lakes, where the house exploded, is surrounded by three rivers and was seeing serious flooding Monday. Record crests were expected in that area and others in the state.

As firefighters fought rushing, chest-high water to try to extinguish the fire in the exploded house Monday, neighbor Joy Sevean was a few blocks away, half-jokingly suggesting that its owner may have gotten the best of the deal. She and other residents said they've given up hoping that government will step in and either fix the flooding problems permanently or buy them out and turn the area into wetlands.

"We have two children, and I don't want them living like this," she said as she pointed to the flooded park. "We want out, but it seems like nobody listens to us."

The house that exploded early Monday sent a cloud of smoke over the area as firefighters sought to contain the flames from a boat.

Assistant Fire Chief Ron Fusaro said adjacent houses suffered heat damage from the explosion but were otherwise unharmed. Pompton Lakes Emergency Management Coordinator Albert Evangelista confirmed that the owner of the house was not inside at the time.

The neighborhood sits between the Pequannock and Ramapo rivers and has a long history of flooding. A few blocks west of the explosion, the baseball field at Joe Grill Park was submerged in waist-high water as the Pequannock rushed by in the distance.

"We were told 10, 11 years ago when we moved in that this was a 100-year flood zone," said Joy Sevean's husband, Joe. "This has happened seven times in 10 years, so which one is the 100-year flood?"

Maryann Waibel, whose house abuts the baseball field, and husband Ken had two pumps running all night in their furnished basement. The pumps didn't prevent sewage from seeping in through their shower drain. She said the last time that had happened was in 1984.

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