On early Thursday, June 20, rain pelted down on South Jersey, and sections of Cherry Hill saw flooding that was unprecedented. Some experienced a rush of water in the basement and others were trapped in their cars after getting caught while driving.
But when the rain subsided and the skies cleared, the end still wasn’t in sight for residents who experienced damage during the storm. Now, the affected residents are moving forward with repairs and filing claims with their insurance companies or FEMA.
Chief Christopher Callan of the Cherry Hill Fire Department said some of the first calls began streaming in around 7 or 8 p.m. on Wednesday night. Their department was brought in to assist the Pennsauken Fire Department with vehicles that were trapped in floodwaters.
The calls picked up around 1 to 1:30 a.m. when about five inches of rain fell in a period of four and a half hours.
“That’s when we got inundated with calls,” Callan said.
In total, the fire department responded to 60 calls that evening. Haddonfield Road from Route 70 to Chapel Avenue and two different sections of Route 38 were under water. The Kingston Estates were severely flooded, and while the residents were in no immediate danger, the department did enter into the neighborhood via boats and offered to transport residents to dry land.
Callan said they used the boats to check that no one was in harm’s way, and for the residents who were nervous, they offered them a chance to evacuate. Ultimately, they assisted 12 people and two dogs out of the flooded area.
The department has three boats. Callan said, in the past, the department has responded to incidents at Cooper River, and so it wants to be prepared to deliver emergency services via boat if they’re needed. The department has several members who have undergone training to become swift water rescue technicians, so that when there’s a current, the first responders know how to exit the boat and swim to provide aid. Ironically, some members had just completed their training the very Wednesday that the heavy rains began.
Tiffany Hoffman, a resident of King George Road, watched on Thursday morning as some of her neighbors climbed into these boats. She woke up at 3 a.m. to a funny sound coming from the fan in her air conditioner. Shortly thereafter, her neighbor was banging on her door telling her and her husband to move their cars that were parked in the street. She said when they went downstairs there was a foot or two of water on the bottom floor of their split level home.
The family’s home flooded once before during Thanksgiving weekend, and they had recently finished the walls. In fact, they had plans to paint that Thursday.
Because they were planning to paint, they didn’t have too many items on the bottom floor where their garage, laundry room, den and half bath are housed. She said they lost drywall and a few items in the garage, but luckily, their hot water heater and heater were fine once they dried out.
Hoffman said, in the morning, the water rescue team came and was checking on her and her neighbors. While some of her neighbors opted to be evacuated, she said they didn’t feel in immediate danger and didn’t want to leave their dogs and cats behind.
Given that they hadn’t finished their repairs from November, they only lost about $100 to $200 in drywall. Hoffman said they planned to eat the cost because if they’re under their deductible, she didn’t see the sense in going through insurance.
Hoffman said King George Road flooded in 2011 and this past November, but the June 20 flood was the worst to date. She said it’s time for the township to do something to prevent future flooding.
“I appreciate the township’s help, but they need to do something to help alleviate some of that flood damage,” Hoffman said.
Robert Whitekettle also experienced severe flooding on Stanford Road. He was awakened around 1 a.m. on Thursday morning by his dog, who is terrified of lightning. He had noticed some flooding in his basement earlier in the day, but it wasn’t anything major so he sucked it up using his shop vacuum and went on with his day. He considered going back to sleep after his dog woke him, but the thought crossed his mind that he should check on the basement. He wasn’t prepared for what he found.
“It was like all heck broke loose; it was like a fire hydrant broke loose,” Whitekettle said.
Their sump pump had given out, and water was filling the basement of their home. The water was rapidly rising, and all of their utilities – washer, dryer, heater, hot water heater – were flooded. The two rabbits the family keeps in the basement were in their cage, and while he wasn’t certain if it was safe to enter the water, Whitekettle waded into the water to rescue them. He said if he’d gone to check the basement any later, they surely would have drowned.
Within an hour, the family had three feet of water in their basement, and at an hour and 10 minutes, they had four. With their utilities compromised, the pilot went out on their water heater, and gas began to leak. Whitekettle, his wife and kids evacuated the house fleeing to family that lives on the same street.
“It was very traumatic that’s for sure,” Whitekettle said. “I didn’t know if my house was going to catch on fire.”
The fire department responded to their call and came out to shut off the utilities. Firefighters pumped the water out of their basement in time before the water reached the electrical panel. Whitekettle said he and his family are beyond grateful to the Cherry Hill Fire Department for its help during a horrifying experience.
Whitekettle said his homeowners insurance only covers up to $5,000 in water damage. He said, luckily, the basement wasn’t finished, but his heater alone will cost between $6,000 to $7,000 to replace let alone all of the other utilities he has to put back in. Given that Gov. Murphy declared a state of emergency, Whitekettle plans to apply for aid via FEMA to help with some of the recovery cots.
Cherry Hill’s Office of Emergency Management is currently completing preliminary damage assessments to forward to the county for potential disaster relief. Residents who experienced damage and are planning to file an insurance claim should contact Cherry Hill’s Emergency Management Coordinator, Dennis Moore.
Moore said the information they collect will go to the county, which then forwards it to the state. The state then forwards this information to the federal government and makes an official request from FEMA. He said he’s not sure what the timetable is on knowing how much FEMA aid they’ll receive might be. Anyone seeking to file a claim can email Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.