New Jersey residents continue rebuilding after Ida

·4 min read

Ashley Thomas and her husband, Troy, are hoping to move into their new house in October, a little over a year after the Mullica Hill tornado destroyed their home.

"There are people who chase storms -- they're called storm chasers -- we are the exact opposite of that," Thomas told AccuWeather National Reporter Jillian Angeline. "We run away from the storms."

With no basement of their own until the house is rebuilt, the Thomas family has spent the past year staying at the homes of friends and family during severe weather events to stay safe in the case of another destructive tornado.

As Hurricane Ida, and later the resulting tropical rainstorm, traveled northeast, its large counter-clockwise wind pattern interacted with the southeast wind flow inland from the Atlantic Coast, spawning 35 tornadoes along its path, AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.

One of the 35 tornadoes was an EF3 with estimated maximum winds of 150 mph that tore through Mullica Hill, located in Harrison Township, New Jersey, on Sept. 1.

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There were no fatalities reported in Gloucester County, the county that holds Mullica Hill, but several homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed. According to Harrison Township Mayor Lou Manzo, 39 homes were either demolished by the storm or had to be torn down in order to rebuild.

While Ida was no longer a hurricane by the time it reached the Northeast, the tropical rainstorm brought strong wind gusts, flooding downpours and power outages to the region.

Most of the 55 direct deaths from the storm were not in Louisiana or Mississippi, near where the hurricane had made landfall, but rather in the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. Here, Ida directly caused 49 deaths, 48 of which were due to freshwater flooding, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A large majority of these fatalities were people who drowned in cars or who had been swept away by fast-moving floodwaters. At least 14 people drowned in their homes or apartments due to flooding, according to NOAA.

"The amount of rain that we are forecasting is often not the real issue, it's how fast the rain falls and how this leads to flooding in places that normally would not flood if it were not for the rainfall intensity," Kottlowski told Angeline.

Within a 60-minute span, from 8:51 to 9:51, New York City's Central Park recorded 3.15 inches of rainfall. This shattered the one-hour rainfall record set just two weeks prior amid Tropical Storm Henri.

During this historic rainfall, the National Weather Service (NWS) New York City office issued its first flash flood emergency alerts, one for northern New Jersey and another for parts of New York City. A flash flood emergency alert is reserved for "exceedingly rare situations when extremely heavy rain is leading to a severe threat to human life and catastrophic damage is happening or will happen soon," according to the NWS.

When the tropical rainstorm reached New Jersey, team leader of security at Community Baptist Church and Bergen County NAACP member Collette Thompson found herself and her son driving to pick up her husband and daughter from the city of Hackensack. Normally, Thompson told AccuWeather via email, the drive from Englewood would have taken her 10 minutes. Instead, it took her nearly two hours due to the floodwater and downed trees.

Collette Thompson, team leader of security at Community Baptist Church and Bergen County NAACP member. (Gary Thompson)

Earlier, Thompson's husband, Gary, had gone to pick up their daughter from the hair salon earlier when the flood waters began to reach the car doors. Forced out of the car, the water soon rose to their waists, and the car floated away.

"We finally made it, and they were soaking wet and scared," Thompson said. "Cars were stranded and people abandoned their cars, screaming for help."

It took them another hour and a half to return to Englewood, only to come across more floodwater blocks away from their house.

"The water was rushing so fast up my driver's door, we had to jump out," Thompson said. "My Audi floated down the block and all we could do was watch."

The roof of her home was also damaged due to high winds, though she was able to have it fixed through insurance roughly a month following the storm.

For those rebuilding in Mullica Hill, it took some as long as six to eight months to work with insurance companies for funds to rebuild, according to Manzo, adding it was mostly the last four or five months where the township started to see people coming in for permits. Supply chain issues also hindered repairs.

The Thomas family had their home demolished in November, with construction starting in April. With the way progress is going, Thomas said she hopes to be home in October -- in time for two of her kids' birthdays and ahead of the holidays.

While speaking with Angeline, Manzo pointed out that the Thomas family's house was one of the homes with the most progress.

"If you think about it, they're going to be displaced for 14 to 16 months when all is said and done," Manzo said, "but progress is being made."

Reporting by AccuWeather National Reporter Jillian Angeline.

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