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Parsippany Officials Urge Immediate Evacuation of Lower Lake Hiawatha

The Rockaway River's retaining wall failure—and a release of water from the reservoir dam—flooded low-lying homes and cars.

Rescue operations have begun in the lower Lake Hiawatha area following the failure of the retaining wall protecting the neighborhood from the waters of the Rockaway River, Parsippany Police said.

With the Rockaway River expected to crest Monday at 3 a.m., officials are releasing pressure on the reservoir dam by releasing some of the water, Mayor James Barberio said in a statement Sunday night.

"If you are in a flooded area in lower Hiawatha, leave immediately," Barberio said. "The water will rise very fast, much faster than it has been. If you need assistance getting out of a flooded home, call 911 now and we will send rescuers to you."

"Rescue and recovery is assisting people out of their homes," Police Spokesman, Patrolman Earl Kinsey, said.

Some of the residents are coming to the township's evacuation staging site at Lake Hiawatha Elementary School. The center was put into action to help residents displaced by Hurricane Irene. It is not intended to be a shelter or sleep space, police said. The staging site is a transitional waystation where Parsippany residents can check out various resources such as hotels to find safe shelter.

The center is staffed by members of the Par-Troy Emergency Medical Service, the Community Emergency Response Team and other local rescue personnel, along with citizen volunteers. Running the effort is Barbara Ievoli, the township's director of human services.

Ievoli and other volunteers worked and waited throughout the storm with few residents showing up for assistance. Town Councilman Michael dePierro stopped by to visit and offer encouragement to the exhausted volunteers Sunday afternoon.

The quiet broke after word of the failed retaining wall and the police department's call for an immediate evacuation.

Bob and Jackie Messinger came to the center with their daughter Laura, 16, and their two dogs, Dexter and Bu. 

"Our house is under water," Bob Messinger said. "Hopefully, they can help us."

Apparently, the center volunteers did help. The Messingers walked out of the building a short time later with information on a hotel that accepted pets as guests.

"It's expensive," Jackie Messinger said, "but it's worth it so we can all be together."

While the evacuation staging center has not been overrun by residents asking for help, a steady stream of people from lower Lake Hiawatha began making their way to the school after the retaining wall failed and water flowed into people's homes and cars.

"The river continues to rise," Kinsey said. "Rescue crews are going door to door to inform residents of the danger. If they come to your home, please answer the door promptly."

If anyone needs assistance, call 973-263-4300 to let responders know.

He added that no vehicles are permitted to be parked on any street near the flooding area to ensure rescue vehicles can gain access in and out of the area. Also, vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the roadway on Lake Shore Drive, Minnehaha Boulevard or Hiawatha Boulevard from North Beverwyck Road down to the river is prohibited until the flooding stops.

Mrs. K August 29, 2011 at 02:07 AM
Thank you to ALL the volunteers out there assisting the residents of Parsippany and remember, they have to go to their regular jobs tomorrow....
CAZ August 29, 2011 at 04:52 AM
Praying for all the families affected. What I saw today; I have never experienced 1st hand. When I saw all that river water up to the top of the retaining wall this morning I knew something wicked was going to happen.
Jeanne Stevens August 29, 2011 at 01:33 PM
How can I find out about Manito Ave. off lower Vail Road?
Natalie Davis (Editor) August 29, 2011 at 03:50 PM
Call the police's non-emergency number, 973-263-4300.
DCM August 29, 2011 at 07:38 PM
My Heart and Prayers go out to all the familes effected by this flood. It is truly nothing I have ever seen, even being in town almost 40 years. (Mid eighties was close!) Thank you to all the personnel who responded and assisted in the evacuation; LHFD, PTHPD, RNFAS, R&R & the Squads and responders from the other side of town. God Bless the Volunteers!! if any one knows of how we can help with clean up, donations or anything, please post!.. Thanks a bunch!
Dave F August 30, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Why did United Water wait until AFTER the storm to perform the "controlled release"? Maybe I'm wrong, but wouldn't releasing that much water into a river that was well beyond flood stage make the flooding significantly worse. Why didn't they lower the level of the reservioir with a controlled release BEFORE the storm????? Who is holding them accountable?????
Natalie Davis (Editor) August 30, 2011 at 08:13 PM
I have put that very question to the folks at United Water and await a response.
joe raich August 30, 2011 at 11:47 PM
barbario and his council lackies must be replaced sooner than November 8th...we can't live with their bad decisions.They didn't care about people who voted for them ,we gotta do what we gotta do. Resign now before the November rush !!!!
Nancy August 31, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Joe you continue to be an ignorant bastard. Why don't you try to help some people instead of making your stupid political remarks!
the grin reaper August 31, 2011 at 03:05 AM
Joe, while I sympathize with you as you live in one of the worst hit sections of town, ignorant statements such as this, is why not even the most die hard Democrats vote for you. The Mayor and Council did what more politicians need to do, let the professionals (police, rescue, EMS, fire and OEM) do what was necessary and make sure they have the assets they need to protect the lives of Parsippany.
Hughes August 31, 2011 at 04:04 AM
I read the mayor's message on the website about how people should stand up to Irene and tell them they can't take the pride out of Parsippany. So as people are having a good time listening to music, the lower half of Lake Hiawatha is a powder keg waiting to explode. You have massive oil leaks ALL over, gas, water mains gushing and hot electrical wires too. The fumes are absolutely overbearing and toxic... WHERE IS THE RED CROSS?!?! I think it shows poor taste to have some concert while neighbors have lost everything, EVERYTHING! Why hasn't the town made provisions for evacuations? A shelter for those to go to? Where was the reverse 911 call? No one received that. I heard there is a class action lawsuit being implemented because they opened the flood gates without telling anyone. You have no idea how bad it is down there, it's awful. My heart goes out to those who have lost everything but I hope the mayor had a good time rocking out to the Eagle's tribute band. Poor taste Mr. Mayor.
CAZ August 31, 2011 at 04:22 AM
@Hughes, these concerns are so very warranted. i hope the right people see this. please tell me if you or anyone on the patch knows: SHOULD WE BE CONCERNED ABOUT BREATHING THESE FUMES? the toxic smell is very strong, it's coming right into my our homes and we don't live in lower Hiawatha.
Hughes August 31, 2011 at 05:44 AM
Absolutely... "Breathing fuel oil no. 1 vapor for periods as short as 1 hour may make you feel nauseous, increase your blood pressure, be irritating to your eyes, or make your eyes bloodshot. Breathing vapors can also affect your nervous system. Some of the effects of exposure to heating oil vapors that have been noted in case studies include headache, light-headedness, anorexia (loss of appetite), poor coordination, and difficulty concentrating. Breathing diesel fuel vapors for a long time may damage your kidneys, increase your blood pressure, or lower your blood's ability to clot. Constant skin contact (for example, washing) with diesel fuel may also damage your kidneys. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that residual (heavy) fuel oils and marine diesel fuel are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B classification). In addition, IARC considers that there is not enough information (Group 3 classification) available to determine if distillate (light) fuel oils or distillate (light) diesel fuels cause cancer.
Hughes August 31, 2011 at 05:45 AM
They have also determined that occupational exposures to fuel oils during petroleum refining are probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A classification). We do not know if fuel oils can cause birth defects or if they affect reproduction." Several U.S. states including the Connecticut department of health provides a fact sheet on home heating oil spills that includes the advice that homeowners should avoid both breathing heating oil fumes and skin contact with heating oil. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services offers similar advice.
Hughes August 31, 2011 at 05:46 AM
I ALSO urge you to contact the following: If you notice oil in the water, stay away from it and contact local authorities or EPA at 1-800-424-8802. Avoid Oil Spills Crude oil is a mixture of chemicals that could be released into the environment during an emergency such as a hurricane and flood. In flood situations, some parts of the oil will float on water and can be seen as a film on the surface, and other parts will sink to the bottom. Other parts of the oil can become fumes in the air. People can come into contact with these chemicals by getting them on their skin or by breathing them in the air. If you notice oil in the water, stay away from it and contact local authorities or EPA at 1-800-424-8802. Emergency responders and workers should use appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment when working in these hazardous conditions.
joe raich August 31, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Nancy, maybe you were the person who ordered the reservoir , river release after our lives were restored when the power was finally turned back on after being out for 12 hours . I can blame you because your mayor won't admit to this horrible decision. Just consider yourself among the fortunate. And, If you like calling me names, then i can certainly reciprocate.
Dave F August 31, 2011 at 06:21 PM
I have no idea what Joe is trying to say.... Does the Mayor have a "floodgate release button" under his desk? Do you actually think a Mayor can order UW to release water that will also flood neighboring municipalities along the Rockaway River? That's one powerful Mayor! If he is that omnipotent, best not to piss him off or he will caste a spell and turn you into a frog....
Natalie Davis (Editor) August 31, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Just to add some facts here: Any decision to do anything with the dam comes from the water company, United Water, NOT the municipality. The mayor and the police were told by UW that it was going to release water from the dam to relieve pressure. At that point, all the town officials could do was warn people that it was going to happen. And they did make that effort to notify people. I am trying to get answers from UW, but so far, no one has returned any of my calls. I will keep trying.
Hughes August 31, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Natalie - what efforts did town officials make that were made in a timely manner that were deemed appropriate enough? Can someone tell me WHY the reverse 911 calls never went out to residents if town officials knew ahead of time that water would be released? The Reverse 911 is for this reason and it didn't work. Who is responsible for THAT?
Natalie Davis (Editor) September 01, 2011 at 02:27 PM
The info I have after speaking with United Water is in an article published yesterday. The mayor released no water -- the water company says it was all then. They released on Friday at the request of Gov. Christie and the state DEP. There was no Sunday release -- there was a warning at around 5 pm that one would happen (because of an alert triggered at the reservoir). Patch received a Reverse 911 alert from the police about a forthcoming dam release on Sunday, but the town and the water company insist that second release did not occur. I've encountered a lot of people skeptical about this, but I don't see United Water lying or falling on a sword to protect Parsippany's mayor or government. Doesn't make sense for the company to do that. If the company says that it made the Friday release happen and explains why alerts were sent Sunday though no release followed, I have to assume it's telling the truth. It's not like the firm is making itself look heroic here. We'll continue to look into this, though.
Dave F September 01, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Natalie - Dig deeper. UW is not providing the full story. You may find that the gates were "wide open" starting Friday, and kept wide open through the storm until 10pm. The water in the reservoir came within 4 inches of over-topping the dam. They were forced to issue an alert since their efforts to lower the reservoir levels were not as effective as they had hoped. If they experienced over-topping, they would have been forced to issue a different type of alert that would have included potential structural issues due to over-topping. Translation - there is a chance the dam will fail, evacuate. You may also find that there were mechanical issues with certain gates that prevented them from functioning properly, and issues with offsite monitoring of certain spillways and release gates. This is far from over, but one thing has not changed - this is not a Parsippany municipal government issue.
Natalie Davis (Editor) September 01, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Dave, I intend to--the integrity of the dam and the water company itself are massively important. It will take time as I am one person and this is a big town with lots of pressing stories right now. However, your last sentence contains the issue that was most pertinent to many people, which is why that was my initial focus.
elias Stamatiades February 03, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Hi my name is Eli and our home is on the corner of Rockaway Blvd &Rockaway place. I m just wondering if anyone here find out if there's any active class action law suits for compensation of what FEMA didn't pay for. I remember that Sunday like it was yesterday. It was a sunny windy day, and around 4pm I noticed a lot of police cars going up and down the block. Then I notice ed 2 fire engine trucks parked right in front of my parents home. I went outside to get the story. I asked a fireman, and he told me that the retaining wall was compromised, but he didn't disclose to me or my neighbors the severity of it, and not one of the 2
elias Stamatiades February 03, 2012 at 11:42 PM
Not one of I guess 20 officials firemen/policemen told us to try to save our valuables; I had 4 vehicles which I could of saved by driving them to higher ground, and I also had time to save all of our families personal
elias Stamatiades February 03, 2012 at 11:49 PM
I had time to save our families personal belongings. It just not right for them just to shake their heads when you ask any of those firemen/policemen. FEMA did help us, but they wouldn't compensate us for the 4 vehicles which are registered to my biz, and my biz insurance also is denying
elias Stamatiades February 03, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Our biz insurance has denied us, because of them not being parked at the place of business. I hate to complain, and always try to put a positive spin on bad things that happens, but sometimes it becomes overwhelming.
elias Stamatiades February 04, 2012 at 12:07 AM
If anyone in this forum know if any active law suits that we can sign up for. Me and my family would greatly appreciate it, and wouldn't forget it. Any info would be great. Thanks, Eli

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