Mother Nature wreaks havoc on the Hopewell Valley – again

A fire vehicle sustained major damage during recovery efforts on Bayberry Road yesterday (Photo submitted by Mike Chipowsky - we aren't sure who took it and will be happy to give credit if the photographer lets us know who they are!)

Almost exactly a month after the unprecedented touchdown of a tornado hit the Hopewell Valley, yesterday, September 1, the Valley was hit again with an extraordinary torrent of rain brought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.

In less than three hours, the Valley was pummeled with six inches of rain. Before it was all over, residents noted accumulations of eight to more than nine inches of rain. But during the evening hours and extending well into the night, local drivers taken completely unawares found themselves in desperate situations.

As noted last night, all major roadways and many secondary roads were closed due to flooding shortly after the tornado warning ceased around 8pm. As the evening went on, motorists stranded due to closed roads populated parking lots on relatively high ground from Pennington Quality Market (PQM) to Hopewell Borough. Residents at home faced flooding from minor basement leaks to some that caused major damage throughout the structure.

Hopewell Township reported: “Last night Hopewell Township was hit hard by Hurricane Ida. Major roadways and many secondary roads were impassable throughout Hopewell Valley. There were many stranded motorists and residents in homes, requiring 50 overnight water rescues and resulting in two fatalities. The names of the deceased are not being released at this time.

“A call was received from a stranded motorist on Route 518, east of Route 31, and Officer James Hoffman responded to attempt a rescue. While struggling to reach the person in need, his vehicle was swept sideways and was rapidly lifted by the rising water of the Stony Brook. Very quickly, he realized he needed to get out of the car, but the door would not open due to the pressure of the water. He removed the gear he was wearing and was able to escape the vehicle through the window. Finding himself in deep, flowing water, Officer Hoffman traveled about 100 yards and was finally able to grab onto a tree. He held on while the powerful water continued to rise.

“In response to Officer Hoffman’s distress, Officers Michael Makwinski and Robert Voorhees attempted to reach him, and quickly found themselves in a similar perilous position. With all three officers in the water, holding on to trees for approximately two hours, rescue units from all over the area and the state arrived to provide aid. The three officers were rescued by the efforts of the swift water rescue teams from the Union Titusville Fire Company, the Lawrenceville Fire Company and the Hamilton Fire Department. Two officers were transported to the hospital, examined and released. They were wet and exhausted, but otherwise unharmed. “

In a telephone conversation with MercerMe, Hopewell Township Police Director Robert Karmazin lauded the courage of the officers. “This was a tremendous human effort,” he said. “Our officers responded to the call without hesitation, foregoing their own safety.” 

Photo of a flooded Hopewell Borough by Woody Carsky-Wilson. Click here for a video of the scene.

Karmazin confirmed that helicopters flying over the Valley today were the NJ State Police aviation unit responding to calls for assistance by providing aerial views of the scene. He also confirmed that one of the fatalities was a woman who died in floodwaters on Pennington-Titusville Road. He did not yet have further details.

In the press release, the Director expressed his deepest appreciation to the many search and rescue organizations who responded when needed, and who then continued on with recovery efforts. These organizations included Hopewell Fire and EMS, Hamilton Fire Department, Lawrenceville Fire and Police, West Windsor Police and EMS, Robbinsville Police and EMS, New Jersey Task Force 1, Camden County High Water Rescue, Mercer County Sheriff, Mercer County Rapid Response Task Force, Mercer County Prosecutors, and the NJ State Police.

Hopewell Township mayor, Julie Blake, concurred, stating: “I want to say how much we appreciate the mutual aid and that Ewing and other municipalities are helping with Hopewell Township rescues. Hamilton mayor, Jeff Martin, has gone out of his way to support Hopewell Township. We appreciate all of the first responders in Mercer County who help keep us safe.” She added that she has received several calls from Governor Murphy, Senator Corey Booker, and other legislators to offer their support.  

Hopewell Borough Mayor Paul Anzano was unavailable today but Council member Ryan Kennedy shared: “Just weeks after the historic flooding in August, our Borough residents and businesses were once again dealt a heavy blow with last night’s previously unthinkable storm. While we, as a town, assess the flood damage and work towards helping our neighbors recover, I want to personally thank our area volunteers and first responders. We all owe these officers, EMTs and firefighters from  the Hopewell Fire Department, our Police Department and responders who came to our aid from Hamilton, Lawrence, Ewing and beyond our prayers and gratitude. The Borough’s public works and engineering departments are going above and beyond right now – but I know it will be a community wide effort to get everyone back into their homes, our businesses online and repair the damage. Our hearts – and every resource available to our Borough – are open to everyone affected.

Pennington Mayor Jim Davy echoed the sentiment in thanks for the first responders and expressed gratitude that Pennington residents had mostly been spared. He said there were four water rescues and numerous fire alarms going off due to water shorting out alarm systems, but that no one in the Borough lost power and everyone seemed (as of Thursday morning) to be ok, although some faced significant water damage to basements.

Pennington restaurant Boro was one of those who suffered damage, taking in approximately 50” of water in its basement, according to owner Katie Sanford. “Food, equipment, liquor, computers all damaged. The restaurant/market upstairs also had gushing water throughout,” she reported. She said that she is thankful that “everyone is safe, just a big clean up today.”

While most of the Valley starts the clean up from local flooding, residents of River Drive in Titusville remain vigilant as the river continues to rise. Many residents’ decks and yards are well under water and the river is expected to continue to rise until tomorrow at 6am when it is expected to crest.

Delaware River rising in a River Drive yard. For context, the bank of the river usually comes only to the far side of the group of trees. There usually is a drop of approximately 20-25 feet from the lawn chairs down the bank to the river. Today, the drop is about three feet. (Photo by Amie Rukenstein)

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