Roads in Cumberland, Salem Counties washed out by rain

Posted: August 16, 2011

In 61 years, Hopewell Township Mayor Bruce Hankins said, he had "never seen anything like it."

Heavy weekend downpours dropped up to 111/2 inches on parts of the Cumberland County township and changed the face of the community.

Seeley Lake disappeared when a dam broke. Its waters washed out a road, emptied into the normally mild Cohansey River, then raced through downtown Bridgeton, prompting some evacuations.

Area farm fields, planted with tomatoes, corn, and soy beans, were submerged. Some roads were swept away, several water rescues were reported, and homeowners' basements were inundated.

Across the region, precipitation records fell like raindrops. The 4.84 inches measured Sunday at Philadelphia International Airport was more than twice the date's previous record of 1.77 inches. Only four dates in the city's history had higher totals.

But South Jersey, particularly Cumberland and Salem Counties, was hit hardest. Eleven inches fell at Seabrook Farms in Cumberland County, the National Weather Service said. A nearby farm measured 111/2 inches on its rain gauge, local officials said.

The slow-moving weather system was the same one whose winds toppled a stage Saturday at the Indiana State Fair, killing five people. Its lazy pace was what caused the exceptional rainfall, said Dave Scheibe, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

Heavy downpours and runoff filled a series of lakes along the upper Cohansey River in South Jersey, causing some to give way and wash out roads.

"We didn't anticipate this damage," said Hankins, co-owner of a lumber business in Bridgeton. "We're talking about major detours just to go to the store."

Lona Gaines of Upper Deerfield, Cumberland County, had to find a new route to work Monday. Some streets were blocked off. "You can't go the normal way," she said.

Bostwick Lake held, but Seeley Lake and Sunset Lake gave way, flooding several roads.

"You can't beat Mother Nature," Hankins said. "She'll win every time."

The waters rushed along the Cohansey toward Bridgeton.

They "were going at least 20, 30 miles per hour," said Martin Ruiz, a maintenance worker for a realty company who spent Monday checking on basements of rental properties in Bridgeton. "There were big logs going through there."

The waters stayed a couple of feet below the downtown flood walls - a lucky break for the city of many Victorian buildings.

An apartment complex for senior citizens, next to the river, was evacuated Sunday when there were fears water was going to spill into the city.

In Pennsylvania, the rains led to a roof collapse on Saturday night in Allentown. Thirteen people were evacuated from the apartment building.

The downpours also washed out Sunday's final day of performances at the Musikfest music festival in Bethlehem, Pa.

The losses there included African drums that were for sale and more than 1,000 kebabs that were to be sold as a fund-raiser for Hogar Crea house, which treats young addicts.

In New Jersey, the storm heavily damaged many area roads.

Rushing waters cut a 75- to 100-foot-long gash through the heavily used Beebe Run Road in Cumberland County, said Will Daddario, 59, Hopewell Township administrator. Seeley Lake Road was washed out completely near the lake, which is not much more than a stream now.

"Some of the roads won't be repaired for a while," Daddario said. "It will take months."

Over the weekend, the administrator was watching a house for a neighbor who was vacationing at Ocean City, N.J. Daddario got more than he bargained for.

He found himself pumping water from an inground pool that was overflowing from the heavy rain. The flooding around the pool could have washed it out.

In Salem County, the waters from Elmer Lake and Palatine Lake flowed over roads along spillways, said Jeff Ridgway, the county's director of public works.

The rain and runoff were so heavy that Centerton Lake - which had been drained - filled up again. The gates and retention apparatus at the lake had been removed because they were deemed unsafe.

Nearby Parvin State Park had only minor flooding. The roads around all the area lakes were closed.

"Mother Nature lambasted us," said Ridgway, a Pittsgrove resident. "We're doing the best we can."

He said farm fields were covered with standing water. "It could be a while before the fields can be worked," Ridgway added.

A report on the condition of the roads and bridges will be delivered to the Salem County Board of Freeholders at its meeting Tuesday.

One of the casualties is the concrete Pennytown Bridge on Burlington Road in Pittsgrove. It dropped five feet into a creek.

"I've never seen this volume of water," Ridgway said.


Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or ecolimore@phillynews.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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