NJ towns in need after flood

Hundreds along Passaic River impacted.

BY HEATHER MOYER | PATERSON, N.J. | April 30, 2007

Nathaniel Moses and Rita Kelly discuss the flooding in Paterson.
Credit: Heather Moyer/DNN

Flooding tore through Nathaniel Moses' basement apartment and destroyed all of his belongings.
Credit: Heather Moyer/DNN

Nathaniel Moses never imagined how quickly his life could change.

"One day you're sitting at home watching a movie, and the next you're running for your life," Moses said.

The Paterson resident saw his life change dramatically in mid-April when a powerful nor'easter hit the East Coast, dumping more than 8 inches of rain on his town. His basement apartment was flooded and he lost everything.

Hundreds of people along the Passaic River in northern New Jersey are in the same situation.

"Most people that live down here already live paycheck to paycheck," said Rita Kelly, director of disaster response for Catholic Charities, Diocese of Paterson. "The local food banks and charities are inundated."

Kelly is helping low-income families around Paterson and West Paterson in Passaic County - one of 12 counties in New Jersey declared federal disaster areas - who are coping with flood damage from the April 14-15 storm. She has been door-to-door in some neighborhoods and said that significant help is required to get people back on their feet.

"We've had floods here before, but I don't think people realize that this hit those who've never been flooded before," she said. "The others who've been hit before got it even worse this time."

Moses was one of those first-time flood survivors. His basement apartment is several blocks from the river and he said he had no warning when the water came. There was no time to save anything before evacuating.

"I woke up at 4 a.m. and the water was coming through the front door," said Moses, standing on the porch of the apartment building. "I grabbed my fiancee and my dog and we ran."

They stood on the porch and waited for a boat to pick them up and take them to safety. He lived in the apartment for two years and had seen previous floods stop a good distance down the street before ever reaching his building.

In his apartment, the water line is still visible high on the walls. The stench of mold is in the air and his water-logged belongings are strewn about. Moses said he has been having nightmares about water.

"You know, you see people on TV or elsewhere who have lost everything and you try to understand," he said. "But now you see it and experience it yourself, and you know how they feel."

He was lucky enough to have a landlord that allowed him to move into an empty upstairs apartment, but said many of his friends nearby aren't as fortunate.

Catholic Charities was helping Moses, who is on disability and does not work. While he acknowledges he faces a long struggle, he credits Kelly for assisting him so far.

"If it weren't for this lady, I would've had nothing," he said. "Catholic Charities has helped me so much."

Down the street from Moses' building, neighbors were queued to pick up supplies from two American Red Cross trucks. The trucks have been stopping by twice every day since the flood to distribute food, water, bleach, cleanup tools and other items. A steady stream of families quickly empty the vehicles on each visit, one worker said.

Kelly said she told Red Cross workers to make sure they passed her name and contact information along to anyone having a hard time and in need of more assistance.

"A lot of people need it. This will be a long process," Kelly said.

Cleanup teams from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief are scheduled to arrive this week. Moses said he knows of many elderly neighbors who will welcome the help in getting their homes back in order.

Moses will salvage what he can of his belongings, including old irreplaceable family photos, the loss of which bothered him the most.

"I'm just trusting in God, everything else was material," he said.

He paused for a moment on the porch as a neighbor passed.

"How are you doing?" asked the neighbor.

"I'm alive," Moses replied.

"I know that feeling," said the neighbor, walking off.

Moses nodded and said he was doing what he could to get by.

"I don't want to think about it, but it'll still come into my mind. I just got to get through it," he said. "I get up each day and pray, and I'm thankful I'm alive."

Related Topics:

Churches respond to Father's Day flooding

UT city's water contaminated

Historic city flooded twice in 2 years

More links on Flooding

More links on Disaster Recovery


Related Links:

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Paterson


DNN Sponsors include: