Hurricane Irene leaves 7 dead in flooded New Jersey

By Christine Kearney

FAIRFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) - Raging waterways caused dramatic flooding on Monday across New Jersey, as the state's death toll rose to seven as rivers and creeks rose from the force of Hurricane Irene.

The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management said the state had registered seven deaths related to Irene.

"We have seven confirmed," a spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday.

The bodies of two men were found floating in water on the shoreline of Ocean County on Monday, officials said. Other deaths included a 21-year old woman who drowned when swept away by water and a 39-year old volunteer rescue worker who drowned investigating a submerged vehicle.

Nine river locations hit or surpassed record flooding levels, Governor Chris Christie said at a media briefing.

"We are seeing record flooding levels across the northern part of our state," he said. "We are not out of the woods yet regarding this storm."

In Morris County, in the state's northern region, the Pompton, Pequannock and Passaic rivers are "well above flood stage," pouring water into the towns of Pequannock, Parsippany, Denville and Long Hill, said County Emergency Coordinator Scott DiGiralomo.

Several rivers have not yet crested, he said.

"We're going to have historic flooding," he said. "Some won't crest until tomorrow morning."

St. Clare's Hospital in Denville was surrounded by flood water but remained open to care for patients, with National Guard troops shuttling staff and supplies using high-water vehicles.

Fairfield, a town 25 miles west of New York City that is surrounded on three sides by the curving Passaic River, was in danger of becoming an island, said Armando Fontoura, the Essex County sheriff and the county emergency management coordinator.

Surging from Sunday's powerful hurricane, the Passaic was swelling and had not yet crested, he said.

"The worst is yet to come for us," Fontoura said. "This is going to be very, very bad for the next couple of days. You are not going to be able to get in or get out."

The river could rise as high as 23.6 feet, said Fairfield Deputy Police Chief Anthony Manna, breaking the record of 23.2 feet set in 1903 and topping a more recent high of 22.9 in 1984.

Firefighters pulled two unidentified teens from the raging Whippany River, in the town of Whippany, late on Sunday, said Deputy Fire Chief Randy Polo.


Dumped from a raft at a man-made waterfall in the river, one teen was clinging to a log, and the other to a broken tree limb in the thundering current, he said. The rescue took about an hour, he said.

"They were grateful, to say the least," Polo said.

State utility PSE&G said power had been restored to more than 512,000 customers, while about 188,000 remained without power. It said the outages cause by Hurricane Irene were the worst in company history.

Around Fairfield and neighboring Wayne, the water flooded homes and streets. Some residents waded into the chest-high water, others paddled canoes and still others sat on their stoops watching the water rise.

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