Saturday afternoon, caution tape and road barricades were draped across Catherine Avenue and Brook Street in West Mahwah.
But, unlike a year ago, the road blocks were there as a form of celebration.
In recognition of the one-year anniversary of , volunteers who helped clean West Mahwah residents out of their heavily damaged homes hosted a block party celebrating their triumph after the flood. About 150 residents and 25 volunteers gathered for an outdoor barbeque put on by the Mahwah Elves, , , and other organizations that volunteered to help residents after the flood last year.
Using all donated time and funds, the volunteers returned to West Mahwah Saturday with food, music, balloon animals, children’s games and even an ice cream truck. Residents from heavily-impacted streets surrounding the block party were invited to attend.
“It was definitely a good thing for everybody that we did this,” resident Suzy Godding, who to help clean out homes struck by the Hurricane Irene floods. “It’s good to get everyone together again, and to talk about what happened a year later.”
Most residents at the party said they had never experienced significant flooding in their homes before Irene.
“We had never had more than an inch or two in the basement,” Brook Street resident Valentino Capone said. “So, we didn’t think [Irene] would be any different.”
According to Capone, water began rushing up his driveway and toward his home “all of the sudden. I ran to the basement to shut the electric, and water started literally crashing through the windows and walls. I felt like I was on the Titanic.”
Capone and his wife, Christy, were, like so many of their neighbors, . When they returned, they found the entire basement and garage ruined. Capone estimates about $50,000 worth of belongings were destroyed as a result.
Still, he says his family was lucky, compared to the fate of some of his neighbors.
Suzanne Lopez had water “up to the window sills” in rooms on the first floor of her Catherine Avenue home. She and her family were out of the house until February of this year.
Ed and Maria Steiper were out of their Brakeshoe Place home until June of this year. They are still finishing up repairs.
“It was just devastating,” Ed, who has lived in the home for 46 years and said he never experienced similar flooding, said. “You’re never the same after something like that happens to you. I don’t know how you could be.”
Yet, the Steipers, the Capones and all of their neighbors say that, with the exception of about three families who were renting homes in the area and have since relocated, everyone plans to stay where they are. No one at the block party spoke of plans to move away.
“At first, it was like you couldn’t wait to put the ‘For Sale’ sign up, another Brakeshoe resident, Alice, said. “But now, we’re staying. We love the area and our neighborhood. This is home.”
In fact, many of the residents said the flood ironically made the area more of a tight-knit community.
“In the days after, everybody helped everybody. It was really amazing,” Capone said. “I never expected the generosity and I made friends with neighbors that I didn’t even know I had. It made us stronger, all of us.”
And, the volunteers who helped all of the families in West Mahwah begin to rebuild after Irene, were “unbelievable,” he said. “What Suzy and the Elves and and The Plant [Church] and [ Holy Cross Lutheran Church] and everybody did for us, it was amazing.”