For more than a decade, conventional wisdom claimed that flooding in sections Secaucus, North Bergen and Jersey City would have been less severe during the December, 1992 nor'easter if the pumps at St. Paul's Avenue had been turned on. A different pump at the mouth of Penhorn Creek in Jersey City failed because floodwaters knocked out the electricity.
The storm of 1992 was among the worst in Secaucus history, destroying people's homes while leaving a huge section of the town under water for days.
The Army Corps of Engineers, however, in recently developing a new tool to predict flooding along two principle creeks in Secaucus as well as other parts of the Meadowlands, discovered an odd thing. After their computer model simulated the flood, inserting data that showed the impact the flood might have had if the pumps hadn't been wiped out, they found no difference.
In a presentation before the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) in their Lyndhurst offices earlier this month, Joseph Letter, a hydraulic engineer for the Army Corps, showed that nothing would have changed, because the volume of water spilling over the banks of the Hackensack River was beyond the capacity of the pumps to handle. The homes destroyed in 1992 would have been destroyed, pumps on or not. The basements and possessions ruined would still have been drenched even if the electricity operating the pumps had not been drenched first.
This bit of information may seem like hindsight, but in fact, the same computer that can look back in time can also be used to predict what might happen in the future.
The NJMC's new flood model, which cost almost $2 million to develop, will allow municipalities in cooperation with the NJMC to simulate floods, understand how different types of development and conservation influence flooding, and how to best prepare for and manage high water.
Started three years ago
Three years ago, the NJMC authorized an Army Corps study of the Meadowlands, an information-gathering expedition that sent study crews through more than 23 miles of ditches, water channels and other drainage areas in order to provide the Meadowlands with a tool against flooding.
Representatives from the Army Corps measured and analyzed the district's existing tide gates and pump station. They installed measuring devices at a number of locations to gather the data to incorporate into the computer model. The Army Corps' engineers boated throughout the Meadowlands measuring depth tides, winds, velocity of water and other variables.
By gathering every bit of data possible on how water moved through the area, the Army Corps was able to build a hydraulic model that would simulate flooding and show municipal, state and federal officials where they needed to do flood preparation work, and often how effective previous flood control methods were in avoiding disaster.
Bob Ceberio, executive director of the NJMC, noted recently that the concept of clearing drainage ditches was disproved slightly. While drainage ditches, often clogged with plant growth and silt, hampered water flow and thus maintained higher levels of water in some areas during a flooding situation, clearing them sometimes only allowed other areas to flood.
Made a model
The Corps' computer model shows stages of a developing flood, and reflects upon past floods or possible floods in the future. It can tell planners not only where to dredge, build tide gates and install dikes, but what practical effect these will have on various parts of the community.
In a presentation on three creeks recently, Army Corps officials showed the NJMC how water moved throughout sections of Secaucus, North Bergen, Jersey City and points in Bergen County.
"This computer model takes a lot of guesswork out of planning for flood control," Ceberio said.
The Army Corps showed graphic details of flood potentials along Sack Creek in Secaucus and Penhorn Creek, which runs along the Secaucus-North Bergen and Jersey City border. Sack Creek drains a vast majority of center of Secaucus, and over the years, its lack of drainage has caused significant damage to homes.
Letter said part of the problem has been the inconsistent effort at flood control over the years, since many of the drainage ditches were installed by developers in a piecemeal fashion, not as a coordinated effort. The computer model, he said, should go a long way towards helping to create more comprehensive plan against flooding.
"I know from personal experience the frustration Meadowlands resident have with flooding, and I'm glad we can provide better ways to deal with the problem," said NJMC Chairperson Susan Bass Levin. "By sharing this sophisticated model with our towns, we can do a better job planning the combination of preservation and development that will improve the lives of residents."
Will share models with cities
Ceberio will call this one of the more advanced flood models in the country. He said the model would be shared with the 14 communities in the Meadowlands District in order to predict where flooding might occur and to plan for ways to stop flooding from occurring.
In anticipation of Hurricane Isabel, the NJMC continued to make its technical staff available to municipalities in the Meadowlands District. For instance, four aerial maps were made available Monday to officials from the Township of Lyndhurst at their request. The NJMC is also developing a plan for the floodgates for the Kingsland Impoundment in Lyndhurst and moving its five boats on the Hackensack River to protection.
Emergency advice from the OEM
In early September, the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management began discussing weather patterns as a way of planning against the potential of a hurricane or other weather-related disaster striking our area.
"Destruction from these storms comes from both wind and water," said Coordinator Frank Puzzuta. "Several years ago, Tropical Storm Floyd was a significant lesson learned for the Northeast. Floyd's rains caused floods from Florida to New England."
With the help of PSE&G's communication web and other resources, the OEM is able to help restore utilities areas that are adversely affected.
"Continuity of utility service is a priority to PSE&G and the Hudson OEM," said PSE&G Public Affairs Manager Richard Dwyer. "Utility restoration helps to get everything else moving in the right direction."
Puzzuta said residents, should, in anticipation of an oncoming storm make certain they have a battery-operated radio. If ordered to evacuate, they should turn off gas, water, and electricity and unplug all appliances. Keep the automobile filled with gas and secure outdoor objects that can be blown around.
Puzzuta also encouraged people to help neighbors who might need assistance in securing windows and doors. Also, you should inform family or friends outside the warning area of your evacuation plans, prepare a hurricane evacuation kit that includes important documents, first aid kit, bottled water, extra clothing, sleeping bags, food and medicine.
If you are home during a hurricane, turn up your refrigerator to maximum cold and open only when necessary. Turn off utilities if told to by authorities. Fill the bathtub and other containers with water. Avoid using candles and other open flames. Stay away from windows and doors even if they are covered, and go to an interior first-floor room.
After the storm, use 911 only in case of injury or downed or low hanging power lines. You should keep listening to a radio or television. You should also check gas, water and electrical lines for damage. And do not go into any flood or disaster area until it is declared safe. Also, open windows only a few inches to ventilate moist homes, because a variety of wildlife may been seeking refuge.