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Deluge, runoff spur evacuation of N.J. town

SHARE Deluge, runoff spur evacuation of N.J. town

SPARTA, N.J. — Residents of one New Jersey town were evacuated Sunday and others put on alert as runoff from a day of torrential downpours bloated a river.

State officials estimated that Saturday's downpour, which dumped more than a foot of rain, caused several million dollars worth of damage as high water washed out bridges, roads and caused a dam to burst.

"It was just water and trees and boulders coming everywhere," said Sparta resident Terry Preskar Earl.

The Musconetcong River was rising Sunday, and authorities were worried that it could overflow at any time, said Patrick Rivoli, director of the Warren County Office of Emergency Management.

Residents of Hackettstown were being evacuated, and other towns were on alert.

"Everybody's got what we call a 'heads up,' " Rivoli said.

Officials in Stanhope were worried about a dam holding a pond, Rivoli said. A drainage pipe had been eroded from about 3 feet in diameter to 8 feet, he said.

Saturday's slow-moving storm poured 14 inches of rain on the area around Sparta. Flooding lakes and rivers washed out bridges in Jefferson Township and Ogdensburg and closed roads in Morris and Sussex counties.

Residents of several Main Street homes in Sparta, a town of 18,000 to 20,000 residents, were evacuated Sunday because fire officials feared a mudslide from a nearby hillside.

Several of those homes were blocked on one side by mud from another slide and on the other by a road that had become a brown river. Firefighters used ladders and ropes to ferry residents across the fast-moving current.

Three roads and three bridges were destroyed by rushing water in hard-hit Sparta, said Police Sgt. Russell Smith.

The weight of all that water also burst the dam that formed Seneca Lake, a small, private lake surrounded by homes in Sussex County.

The lake emptied in about one hour Saturday evening, said Ray Brunetti, 43. It was "just a big hole, and the dock floating away," he said.

On Sunday, the empty lake smelled of dead fish.

Rushing water in Newton took out the town's two water mains, said Town Manager Camille Furgiulele.

A well was put into service to help make up for the loss of the mains, but it could only yield about 20 percent of the town's usual demand of 1 million gallons a day, Furgiulele said.

Furgiulele said that although Newton has only about 8,000 residents, up to 20,000 people work there during the week.

About 250 customers of GPU Energy were without power Sunday in Newton, Sparta and Flemington, said company spokesman Ron Morano. Power had been restored to most of the 10,000 customers who were blacked out Saturday, he said.