14 people saved from high water

December 29, 1995 (~estimated)

14 people saved from high water

By Martha Raffaele and Lisa Pevtzow

Staff Writers

Almost two weeks after the Princeton area dug itself out from underneath a record-breaking blizzard, another winter weather tantrum Friday left many roads submerged beneath several feet of water from rain and melting snow.

Motorists who ignored warnings against driving through rising flood waters found that if police barricades did not stop them, their water-logged engines and mud-mired tires would.

Police, fire and first-aid personnel rescued 14 people, including six children, in three separate incidents in Princeton Township and Montgomery on Friday and Saturday.

In Princeton Township Friday afternoon, rescue crews from three towns were forced to use boats to help extricate nine people who were stuck in icy waters on Quaker Road near Princeton Pike.

Another five vehicles were submerged under water on Princeton Pike as a result of the overflowing. Stony Brook.

In Montgomery Friday, two women and two children were rescued on Route 518.

In Princeton Township on Saturday, a motorist was pulled to safety on the Princeton Pike by a rescue crew in a boat.

Tony Broccoli, a meteorologist with the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Plainsboro, said he recorded 1.16 inches of rainfall on Friday, much of which fell in a driving storm shortly before 3 p.m.

State climatologist Keith Arnesen said the rainfall alone was not responsible for the flooding. Snow melted by the spring-like temperatures and frozen ground that remained saturated from previous snows contributed to the flooding problems, Mr. Arnesen said.

“If you count the rain and snow, you had anywhere from 2 to 3 inches of water in the area,” he said.

“The soils were also frozen because our temperatures were below normal for most of December and January, so the water really had nowhere to go.”

On Friday afternoon, Rubin Arana-Downs, a McCarter Theatre employee, was driving a company van along Princeton Pike to Trenton when the water began rising. He managed to escape without the aid of rescue personnel.

“I drove on and it got deeper and deeper,” he said.

The vehicle started losing traction when the water approached 3 feet, he said. When he tried to turn around, the van slid into a ditch, forcing him to jump out of the back and wade to dry ground.

“I got soaking wet,” he said. “There were ice things (floes) floating around me.”

Princeton Township, West Windsor and Lawrence rescue squads sent boats to retrieve several stranded motorists from the waters of a swollen Stony Brook in the area of Quaker and Princeton Pike around 4 p.m. Friday.

Standing at the edge of a flooded Princeton Pike late Friday afternoon, Princeton Deputy Fire Chief Rich McKee said, “I’ve never seen it so bad.”

As he spoke, the level of the swiftly moving Stony Brook stood almost even with its banks and was still rising. In the distance down Quaker Road, a mist-shrouded yellow school bus stood like a phantom up to its grill in the water.

Nearby, two cars lay almost completely submerged. Rescuers weren’t able to reach them because of the current.

As rain poured down, the first rubber rescue boat to strike out in the flood on Princeton Pike was punctured by a submerged street sign. Despite the fact that it was deflating, the boat made it to the field by the side of the road.

A four-wheel drive emergency vehicle sent out after the punctured boat floundered in a deep spot and tipped over into a ditch.

Among those rescued were school bus driver Alice Barclay of Hamilton, and motorists Cecilia Marquez of Quaker Road and Vicki Krampf of Long Hill Road, Montgomery.

Mrs. Krampf said she had driven to Mrs. Marquez’ house to pick up her two children, 4-year-old Katie and 21-month-old Juliana, and proceeded about halfway through the water before she realized it was impassable. After finding a patch of dry road near a farmhouse, she pulled over to the side of the road.

“They were just closing Quaker Road as I was coming through, but I thought that I could make it,” Mrs. Krampf said.

From her car phone, she called Mrs. Marquez to tell her about her plight, and Mrs. Marquez bundled Mrs. Krampf s children, as well as her own two children — Florenzia, 4, and Lucia, 21 months — into her van to drive out to where Mrs. Krampf was parked.

Thinking she could make it back the way Mrs. Krampf had come, Mrs. Marquez continued north on Quaker Road but stopped when she saw ice chunks blocking the way.

The van was stuck in water up to its floor behind a school bus driven by Mrs. Barclay, a driver for Laidlaw Transit Inc. of Mercerville.

Ms. Barclay said she was en route to pick up students at the Chapin and Hun private schools when her bus stalled in the rising waters.

“It was crazy, but I called my dispatcher right away so they could get other buses out w the schools,” she said. “I kept in constant touch with the dispatcher so they knew I was OK.”

No children were on the bus when it stalled, she said.

When she saw Mrs. Marquez’ van stuck behind her, she waved to them to let them know that the ambulance squads were making their way toward marooned motorists.

“She let us know that someone would be there to get us out with a boat,” Mrs. Krampf said. “I told my 4-year-old how exciting it would be that we could ride in a canoe, just like in the movie ‘Pocahontas’.”

After the rescue, Ken Kandrac of the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad waded out of the flooded road, hauling a boat-load of equipment behind him.

“It’s very, very cold,” he said as he sat on a mound of snow to shake the water out of his boots.

On the south side of the flooded area, West Windsor fire and ambulance crews rescued two men using a fire truck, Township Emergency Services Director James V.C. Yates said. One man sought refuge on the Quaker Road bridge over Stony Brook, and the other found shelter at a nearby farmhouse further down the road.

“One guy came out on fire truck, and we were able to get the other gentleman a pair of boots aid help him walk out,” said Mr. Yates, who did not know their names.

Mr. Yates said neither man was injured, but a group of rescuers trying to rescue them was stalled when the boat’s propeller got caught in and water weeds. The rescuers freed themselves from the tangle around 5:45 p.m., he said.

Princeton Township police Lt. Mark Emann estimated that about half of the trapped motorists tried to bypass road barricades that had been set up by police.

“It was about half and half coming through the barricades,” he said. “The water came up very quickly as we were setting up the barriers.” Four or five cars were abandoned on Princeton Pike, Lt. Emann said, and six were left behind on Quaker

Road. All abandoned vehicles were towed after the water receded, he said.

Lt. Einann said the closed roads were reopened by late Saturday morning, but not before another motorist decided to cross a barricade on Princeton Pike.

Charles Peters of Newtown, Pa., was caught in about 3 feet of water on the south side of the Stony Brook bridge on Princeton Pike and had to be rescued by boat around 10 a.m. Saturday, Lt. Emann said.

“He was all right. just a little cold,” he said.

In Montgomery, a tow truck rescued two women and two children stuck on Route 518 at 6:05 p.m. Friday. Police Chief William Beachell said.

Germaine Tartecoff, 34, of Sour-land Hills Drive, and her two children, Alli, 6 and Julian, 3, were in one car. The other stranded driver was Pat Bates, 51, of Woosamonsa Road, Pennington, he said.

Ms. Bates’ car had stalled, and an uprooted tree pinned Ms. Tartecoff s minivan against the side of the road, he said. Both women apparently drove past barricades heading west on Route 518, he said.

No one was injured. Chief Betchell said.

Princeton Township Engineer Robert Kiser reported that the worst of the flooding was found along Princeton Pike. The Stony Brook surged over its banks, pouring water onto a mile-long stretch from Quaker Bridge Road to Gallup Road. Two sections of Quaker Bridge Road totaling about a mile between Princeton Pike and Province Line Road, flooded as well, he said.

Deputy Chief McKee explained that the flood would have been much worse had it not been for the high snow banks on either side of the roadsides, which worked as dams.

“The nice plowing job they (public works workers) did really helped us,” he said.

The flooding started at about 3 p.m. Friday as water swept across a stretch of wooded ground onto Princeton Pike. he said. The water receded by noon Saturday. washing downstream.

“It came up very, very quickly and that’s the reason why so many vehicles were caught,” said Mr. Kiser.

The township Engineering Office also received several reports of flooded basements, he said.

Three township roads were closed on Friday due to flooding, township police Lt. Emann said. They included River Road between Herrontown Road and the Montgomery Township line. Mercer Road between Gallup West and the Stony Brook bridge, and Quaker Road between Mercer Road and Port Mercer.

In Montgomery, a bridge near the Bridgepointe historic district was closed Friday afternoon due to flooding. James W. Schmidt, an environmental health specialist with the township Health Department, parked his township car with flashing yellow signal in front of the bridge to block it until a police barricade could be set up.

“We’ve had reports from everywhere,” Mr. Schmid: said. “We had flooding like this once before, in ’93, where we had a car that floated away.”

Montgomery Police Lt. Greg Harkins said Monday that of several roads closed Friday, including River, Sunset and Opossum roads, only one remained closed Monday — the Griggstown causeway.

“That’s still under a couple feet of water,” Lt. Harkins said.

Minor flooding was reported in West Windsor, where Washington Road was closed just east of the bridge over the railroad Friday and Saturday, police said.

In Plainsboro, police on Friday closed Mapleton Road; Plainsboro Road from Route 1 to Connector Road; Cranbury Neck Road from George Davidson Road to Grovers Mill Road; and John White Road. Police Capt. Timothy Methany reported no severe damage from the flooding.

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