New Jersey under high water


BOUND BROOK, NEW JERSEY (Sept. 18, 1999) -- As emergency crews rescued people from rooftops, put out raging fires, and evacuated homes near the Raritan River, the Bound Brook community was determined to help.

George Kuriyan, outreach chair at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, called the emergency management office to find out the best way to reach out to those displaced by the rising floodwaters -- and subsequent hard-to-control fires -- caused by Hurricane Floyd.

"We wanted to do what was needed, not just what we thought was needed," said Kuriyan. "It turns out that the evacuees had more than enough food -- but a lot of the relief volunteers and rescue workers didn't have any! We've had police and National Guard come from New York."

So Kuriyan gathered with 12 volunteers at the church and made 437 tuna fish sandwiches on Friday as rescue efforts continued. "We'll keep doing this as long as necessary," he said.

"It's our on-the-scene way of helping," added the Rev. Hewitt Johnston, pastor, who said that support from churches can help emergency crews stay focuses on getting people out of danger.

Volunteer Meg Rothberg said she came to help "out of a sense of community spirit."

Another volunteer, Becky Biskup, said, "We've been fortunate to be in a position to be able to help. It's part of being a Christian."

It is likely that more help will be needed, since New Jersey suffered severe flooding and over-the-water fires that were difficult for firefighters to control. Bound Brook's Main Street was under 20 feet of water on Friday.

"At one point a mother and child were put on a clamboat by rescue workers only to have the boat get pounded by the rushing waters and capsize," said Laura Porter, a Church World Service (CWS) disaster response consultant. "The two rescue workers, mother, and infant were trapped under the boat but the rescue workers kept their heads and brought all to safety."

President Clinton declared the state a disaster area on Friday.

Joann Hale, a CWS disaster resource facilitator, will be organizing interfaith response efforts over the next several days. "I'd predict the biggest focus will be mudding out and assessing flood damage," she said. CWS has already issued an initial emergency appeal to its member denominations for $100,000 to support the formation of interfaith response committees and for transporting material assistance.

Meanwhile, community agencies and businesses are still trying to cope with closed-down streets and water damages.

Catholic Charities, which operates Somerset Manor, a service for chronically mentally ill people, could not reach all its clients. "We're pretty trapped as far as being able to get to our clientele," said spokesperson Jed Klein. "So much of the area is under water."

The Bound Brook United Methodist Church began collecting food donations after members called to ask how they could help. "This town is in a really, really bad way," said Barbara Coscia, who was helping collect the goods. "Any place that's near Main Street -- where the Raritan River runs -- is just flooded out."

The Jewish Community Center was able to complete their usual Meals on Wheels route, even though it took them longer. "We had to work hard but were successful," said Evelyn Nebel, office manager. "We're determined to stay open for services. And if people can't come to us, we're available to offer support over the phone. We very seldom close for emergencies."

Serious flooding from the Raritan River stranded many residents on rooftops. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued six people Wednesday morning, and reports said the total number stranded could be higher.

A pair of adjacent Bound Brook businesses caught fire on Wednesday, and the blaze raged out of control in the morning because firefighters couldn't get to it. Helicopters from New York finally dropped water on the fire.

In parts of New Jersey -- along with many other states -- Floyd dropped a foot of rain. Traffic problems continue to mount along the east coast because many main routes are under water.

Updated September 18, 1999

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