After Henri flooded NJ town, Gov. Murphy says FEMA will ‘step up’

New Jersey

HELMETTA, NJ — Residents of Helmetta were allowed back in to their homes on Monday, after 9 inches of rainfall in the space of a few hours left it underwater over the weekend, forcing evacuations.  

In all, 73 homes were damaged by the floodwaters, but some residents returned to find that their homes were simply no longer habitable. Donna Johnson was one of them.

“Our foundation blew out,” she said, and a look at the brick foundation on Monday afternoon bore that out.  

Almost the entire west side of her home’s foundation is gone, leaving the boiler, a hot water heater, and various wires and cables exposed. Flood water still fills the space, more than a day after the deluge.

Police Chief Michael Zarro pointed it out as he toured the neighborhood with PIX11 News.

“The power companies are coming around to shut down the services to the house and pull the meters,” he said, while gesturing toward the open space where the basement wall had been.  “This all has to be shored up.”

The Johnson home is one of four that were condemned.  Another home in the same block, on John Street, is also missing part of its foundation.  The floodwaters also washed away the soil in which the foundation was set.  

It was “completely compromised,” Chief Zarro said.

On the next street over, Railroad Avenue, more homes were damaged.  Jose Montes and his mother-in-law, Vivian Irizarry, stood next to his home.  A water mark was above her hips, and just below his.  He’s 5 feet, 11 inches tall.  The water had been that high throughout the neighborhood on Sunday.  

The two showed how the home’s interior looked.  It appeared that the floors had been painted a medium brown color.

Irizarry kicked at the floor with her sandal to reveal finished wood underneath. It was not paint covering the hardwood floor.

“This is the original color,” she said, as a beautiful amber colored wood peeked through.

On top of all of the floors throughout the home’s main level, she said, “It’s all mud.”

Residents said that they’re thankful there was no loss of life. However, they added, they face a potentially significant problem in paying to rebuild.

“My house isn’t even in a flood zone,” Johnson, the homeowner whose foundation washed away, said.  

She, like most of her neighbors, doesn’t have flood insurance.  

On Monday morning, Gov. Phil Murphy toured the area, and spoke about the problems.

“This part of the state got crushed,” he said, adding that other nearby areas, including  Jamesburg and Monroe Township, got inundated.  

“I’ve heard many people say they didn’t get flood insurance,” Gov. Murphy continued, explaining that people’s insurance companies had told them that flood insurance wasn’t needed. “The answer is, we’ll take care of folks.”

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Cory Booker arrived in Helmetta to tour damage.  As a U.S. senator, he has input in how federal relief money is spent.

Gov. Murphy said that he does, as well.  

“I was on with the president on Saturday, and the FEMA administrator yesterday,” Murphy said. “I’m sure they’ll step up.”

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