A Community’s Calm, A Mother’s Fury

By David Kluesner 

Pompton Lakes: slammed consecutively by Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee

Late August and early September usually epitomize the lazy days of doing nothing or heading to the beach, barbecues and family get-togethers over Labor Day.  Not this summer. Not for North Jersey after Hurricane Irene hit and then a sucker punch landed in the form of Tropical Storm Lee.  Mother Nature attacked furiously on August 28, sending the waters of the Ramapo, Passaic and Pequannock Rivers over their banks to record levels.  All the networks and CNN carried as their top story a flooded home ablaze in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where firefighters had to swim to the house to respond. 

Pompton Lakes is a community I know so well through my work on the DuPont Pompton Lakes Works site cleanup.  I was part of an EPA team deployed to help with the U.S. government’s response and recovery efforts.  FEMA’s mission assignment for us was to collect household hazardous waste, retrieve displaced drums and containers of hazardous chemicals, and to help residents remove oils and chemicals from their flooded basements.  Paterson, Lake Hiawatha, Wayne, Pompton Lakes and so many other North Jersey communities calmly, with strength and resolve, rose to the challenge to respond, unite, once again, to rebuild and move on. 

The first stop in my response efforts was to visit the south end of Pompton Lakes.  I was not prepared for what I was about to see and smell: street after street of flooded homes, as many as 400 or 500 homes with all of their belongings on the front yard; the stench of decaying animals; weary, broken residents placing memories and possessions in a trash heap.  But what struck me was that residents took the time to segregate their household hazardous waste from their non-hazardous waste, which is an essential step in protecting our environment after a flooding event. 

 I came across a command post that was set up by the Pompton Lakes Borough government.  They offered assistance, information, bags of lime, Clorox bleach, water, food and a helping hand.  The local Church of God was pitching in.  Then, days later, Tropical Storm Lee hit.  Rivers rose again, re-flooding the south end of Pompton Lakes.  I visited the re-flooded area and saw the most amazing thing.  The Borough made sure to collect the household hazardous waste from the south end before flood waters rose to the point of carrying it away and causing harm.  EPA assisted Pompton Lakes and other North Jersey communities by picking up the hazardous wastes and disposing of them properly.  Wow, truly amazing for a community and its leaders to have this foresight and respect for the environment in the aftermath of Mother Nature’s fury.  My hat is off to you Pompton Lakes! 

Did you witness anything remarkable in the aftermath of fall’s tropical storms? Feel free to share your observations in our comments section.

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