Roadways turned into rivers. Downed trees and power lines blocked roads and damaged houses. And a tornado ripped through a southern Jersey town, destroying at least 20 houses.
In one of the fiercest storms to hit New Jersey in recent years, Tropical Storm Ida delivered a knockout punch, wreaking havoc across the state as it took lives, flooded downtowns and caused untold millions of dollars in damage.
As of midday Thursday, at least nine people in New Jersey died from the storm, including four who died in an apartment complex in Elizabeth.
Ida left few areas in New Jersey unscathed, with the destruction spanning the state from Passaic County in the north to Gloucester County down south. While the storm had been predicted to have a massive impact — Gov. Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties — the destruction, at first look Thursday morning, was far greater than many had feared.
“There is a lot of hurt in New Jersey,” Murphy said Thursday morning as he pledged to use all resources available to help residents deal with the widespread damage. “We’re pulling all the levers. It’s going to be a long road,” he said as he implored people to stay off the roads.
Ida’s confirmed death toll as of noon Thursday surpassed the state’s losses from Hurricane Floyd and the numbers may still rise as rescue crews continue their searches.
In 2011, nine people in New Jersey died from Hurricane Irene, most from drowning in the raging flood waters while trapped inside their cars. Six people drowned in New Jersey during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, including two deaths each in Somerset and Bergen counties and one each in Passaic and Salem counties. At least 40 people from New Jersey died during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The worst flooding from Ida may be yet to come. As of midday Thursday, some rivers had not yet reached their peak flood stage.
The Passaic River in Pine Brook and Little Falls, the Raritan River in Bound Brook and the Assunpink Creek in Trenton are forecast by the National Weather Service to keep rising until 6 p.m. Friday. The Delaware River at Easton/Phillipsburg is forecast to crest around 6 p.m. on Thursday, the weather service said.
The storm also upended transportation across the state, temporarily shutting down Newark International Airport Wednesday night, with nearly 400 flights canceled. Flooding closed part of one terminal and some roads remain closed. Teterboro Airport was also shut down. NJ Transit rail service is still suspended, except for the Atlantic City Rail Line, while buses are running with localized delays as they encounter roads closed by flooding and downed trees.
More than 60,000 people remained without power as of midday Thursday. For PSE&G customers, Essex County had the most outages with more than 14,000. JCP&L’s outages included more than 8,000 in Morris, nearly 8,000 in Hunterdon and more than 7,500 in Sussex counties.
As of noon Thursday, authorities confirmed at least nine deaths from the storm.
In Elizabeth, four residents of the Oakwood Plaza Apartments complex on Irvington Avenue died during the storm, and rescue personnel are trying to determine if there may be more casualties. The dead include a married couple in their 70s, their 38-year-old son and a 33-year-old female neighbor but their names have not been released, authorities said.
On Thursday morning, police were calling every listed resident and going door-to-door to apartments to check on other residents, city spokeswoman Kelly Martins said.
“Our police and fire are going door-to-door to pretty much do a wellness check at this point and see if there are unfortunately anymore,” said Martins.
Some 600 Elizabeth residents are homeless because of the storm, officials said.
In Middlesex County, a man died when he was swept into a 36-inch storm sewer pipe, South Plainfield Police said.
Authorities said two men were swept into the pipe, which travels under Stelton Road from South Plainfield to Piscataway, on Wednesday night, but only one of the men was rescued.
Then on Thursday, police said, they discovered the body of Dhanush Reddy, 31, of Edison, in a wooded area in Piscataway.
Two people were found dead in submerged vehicles in Hillsborough Township, Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Deputy Chief Frank Roman Jr. said. The deaths took place between late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.
Roman said a preliminary investigation found both individuals drove into flooded waters.
In Milford, Hunterdon County, a driver was found dead in a pickup truck in a creek off Carpenter Street, Mayor Henri Schepens said. The driver’s name has not yet been released and New Jersey State Police are investigating the death.
“We don’t know where the vehicle came from,” Schepens said. “It could have gone through many bridges. It went for quite the distance. The whole roof was smashed in. Water is amazingly powerful.”
In Passaic, a 70-year-old man drowned in a car fully submerged in rising flood waters in Passaic on Wednesday night, Passaic mayor Hector Lora said. The man’s 66-year-old wife and 25-year-old son were rescued by firefighters, but two others may have been swept away by flooding, Lora said. The 70-year-old man’s name has not been released.
Lora said others at least two others are feared dead, swept away by the Passaic River, and divers would continue searching.
“This is just yet another reminder, these come more frequently,” said Murphy, noting that climate change exposes New Jersey in part because of its dense population. “We have got to update our playbook. We’ve got to turn it up, but in the meantime we’re going to be there for folks as they pick up the pieces and recover.”
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NJ Advance Media reporters Rodrigo Torrejon, Steven Rodas, Rob Jennings, Larry Higgs, Noah Cohen and Joe Atmonavage contributed to this report.
Karin Price Mueller may be reached at KPriceMueller@NJAdvanceMedia.com.