The Dommar family of Manville, New Jersey, gave a tour Tuesday to the president of the United States of their home, devastated by the torrential leftovers of Ida: That’s the roof down the block. The baby’s room is in two pieces on the west and east sides of their property.
Just about every material possession Meagan and Caesar Dommar had was destroyed in the flood and subsequent fire that leveled their house to the water line and left much in cinders. They left last Wednesday evening before the flood waters rose, taking their 4-month-old daughter Lila and returning just as warning sirens blared for their pet cat Trinity.
“We literally lost everything,” Meagan Dommar said.
President Joe Biden’s visit Tuesday afternoon alongside Gov. Phil Murphy and other officials seemed to buoy the Dommars, as they sort out what to do next.
They're among about six people the president spoke to Tuesday in the central New Jersey river town. They described Biden as kind and overwhelmingly felt grateful for the visit, they said. The presidential visit could help push along recovery and preparing for next time by elevating houses, Meagan Dommar said.
“He told us that he was very sorry, that he was here to support us and our town,” Meagan Dommar said. “We are hoping that Biden being here will speed things along a little bit.”
The Dommars left in just enough time as the rain fell. Others in the area of town, known as the Lost Valley, were trapped in their homes and had to be rescued by officials in boats.
But they had to contend with an explosion that tossed their roof down the street and set their house on fire. Meagan Dommar said a neighbor called to tell them about the blaze but she also recognized it in a news video while scrolling through social media.
“I can’t even explain the feeling,” Meagan Dommar said. “Our plan was to come back here obviously and go to the second story. We knew that the first story was probably going to be destroyed. The second story is where the nursery is. Was. So we were hoping to get to the story to save all the baby’s stuff. And then of course with the fire. … It’s just been crazy.”
The Dommars and others welcomed Biden, but some put out signs telling him to beat it. Someone had spray painted Trump 2024 on a couch put to the curb as trash.
In addition to the Dommars’ property, Biden saw heaps of discarded items put to the curb. There were mattresses, cabinets, broken musical instruments and children’s toys. A now dusty, reddish mud caked lawns and cars.
Manville, situated along New Jersey’s Raritan and Millstone Rivers, is almost always hard-hit by major storms. It was the scene of catastrophic flooding in 1998 as the remnants of Tropical Storm Floyd swept over New Jersey. It also sustained serious flooding during the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Biden has approved major disaster declarations, making federal aid available for people in six New Jersey counties and five New York counties affected by the devastating floods. He is open to applying the declaration to other storm-ravaged New Jersey counties, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
At least 50 people along the East Coast died in the storm, including at least 27 in New Jersey.