Officials warn morning commute could be hazardous after nonstop rain

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NEW JERSEY (PIX11) — Because of the two days of non-stop rain falling in the tri-state, emergency managers have issued warnings about dangerous conditions during Wednesday evening’s commute that are expected to worsen overnight.

“The bigger concern is the morning commute,” said Chief Brian Higgins of the Bergen County, New Jersey Police Department. He said that the accumulated rain overnight on streets and highways could lead to flooding in a variety of areas.

In addition to being police chief, Higgins is also emergency management director, and in that capacity has sent out a warning to drivers to slow down, and to be prepared for pounding water to shut down some lanes of local roadways, or to shut down whole roads altogether.

In some parts of Bergen County, police departments are making reverse 911 calls. “We’re advising [residents] to move their cars to higher ground,” said Chief Frank Papapietro of the New Milford Police Department. He said that he’d contacted his town’s fire department, which has “got their boats ready, and [the police department has] got a boat that’s ready to go.”

That’s in case officers or firefighters have to pull people out of flooded out neighborhoods, after the nearly 40 straight hours of rain in the forecast.

In the neighborhood along Dawes Highway in Pompton Lakes, people have been evacuated numerous times in the last five years because of floods. In fact, it’s happened so many times that resident Kemie Toska gave PIX11 a brief, but disturbing tour of the community. “That house was bought and demolished after [Hurricane] Irene, that house was bought and demolished after [the FEMA Program] Green Acres,” and on and on he went, pointing out house after house that got bought by either the federal government or the state of New Jersey, because the homes had flooded over and over, and were expected to keep getting damaged by floodwaters.

With straight rain for 36 hours, the worst is yet to come

The government also completed retrofitting work on the Pompton Lakes Dam on the Ramapo River in Pompton Lakes a few years ago. It was designed to control flooding, as an Army Corps of Engineers sign on the side of one of the dam’s gearhouses reads.

But neighbors say something different.

“Since the dam’s bad storm with [Hurricane] Irene,” said Marisa Conahay, who’s lived a quarter mile from the dam for nearly 15 years, “It’s flooded all the way to the roof of [my] basement.”

Irene inundated the Pompton Lakes area in 2011. This week’s two-day storm won’t be nearly that severe, but that’s not stopping residents from being concerned about flooding.

The forecast through Thursday evening calls for slightly lighter rain than originally predicted, but an emergency manager has one other warning about that.

“This is a very fluid storm,” said Chief Higgins. “We’re preparing for the higher [rainfall total] numbers, but we’re hoping for the lower numbers.”

He is among dozens of emergency management personnel throughout the Tri-State who are on a round-the-clock shift or standby order for Wednesday night into Thursday afternoon.

Currently, 2.5 inches to 3 inches of rain are forecast to fall through Thursday. To put that in perspective, If the same amount of precipitation were to fall as snow, it would be approximately 2 1/2 feet of snowfall.

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