BRICK – Noreen Reinhart attributes the death of her 93-year-old mother to the trauma she endured while watching her Greenbriar home filling with water during an August 13 storm when 8.5 inches of rain fell within two and a half hours, flooding 106 homes in the age-restricted community.
The elderly Carmella Cuseo had been living in Greenbriar for 33 years, and Reinhart, who lives in Howell, was with her mother as the water started pouring in from under the doors at around 8 a.m.
The refrigerator toppled over and the water was eventually waist high, Reinhart recalled. The women were stuck there until around 3 p.m., when first responders came by boat to rescue them.
“We couldn’t take anything, not even my mother’s walker. I grabbed a portable oxygen tank and we got into the boat,” Reinhart said. “She lost everything.”
The next day Cuseo didn’t feel well. Reinhart took her mother to Brick hospital where she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
“She was in shock. She was put on a breathing tube, and then she went to rehab,” Reinhart said. “In mid-September she took a turn for the worse, and on September 23 she died.”
Reinhart and other family members are working to repair the house, uncertain of whether to sell it or rent it out.
The only help Greenbriar resident Angel Santos has received with his flooded home is from veterans groups.
“Insurance has denied all of us completely, because the water was created by a flood. Homeowner’s insurance only covers an electrical fire or if a tree falls on the house,” said Santos, 65.
“Why are we paying these premiums when we’re not getting any coverage?” he asked. “They don’t give a damn.”
This is Santos’ third flooding event: he lived in Lavallette during Superstorm Sandy, and he was visiting his parents in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria struck.
Santos served on the USS Saratoga for 10 years and retired in 1984 as a 100 percent disabled veteran, he said. He lost all his furniture, appliances, flooring, doors, cabinetry and more during the Greenbriar flood.
He received a $500 check from Disabled American Veterans, a $1,000 check for appliances from the VFW, and $500 from the Central Jersey Wounded Warrior Program to pay for a new hot water heater. Santos is borrowing money from family members to repair his home, which he is mostly doing himself.
Santos estimates that he is about 30 percent finished with repairs, but now many residents are noticing that previous settlement cracks in their concrete slabs have widened.
“Three weeks after the flood, (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) came here with a police escort. They refused to come into the homes – they only looked through the windows, and we haven’t heard anything from them since,” he said.
Santos and many of the other Greenbriar residents blame the flood on a recent Garden State Parkway expansion and new interchange ramps at exit 91, which can be seen from many of their backyards that face Burrsville Road.
He said residents blame a faulty pump station on Burrsville Road with raw sewage entering their homes during the flood. Santos said that sewer drains were covered on Burrsville Road during the Parkway construction and replaced with a shallow gravel ditch.
Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority (BTMUA) Executive Director Chris A. Theodos said that the pump station on Burrsville Road handles the pumping of wastewater from approximately 240 nearby homes into an underground gravity sewer that runs into an Ocean County Utility Authority regional treatment plant.
“The wastewater system is separate and distinct from the storm water system that handles stormwater runoff,” Theodos said in a phone call on Oct. 3.
“We experienced unprecedented flooding, six feet deep, which caused the pump station to cease to operate,” he said.
The pump station lost its electrical system, pumps and generator, so the utility installed bypass pumping on Aug. 13, the same day as the flood, Theodos said.
On August 14, a temporary diesel pump was installed, and it currently operates about two hours a day, based on flow, he said. The diesel pump will be in service until new pumps are installed in late October or early November, he added.
“The failure of the pumping station did not cause the flooding,” he said. “I’m not aware of the release of any wastewater, there were no visual indicators from the staff that we had onsite,” Theodos said. “The pumping station was a victim of the flood, not the cause.”
Greenbriar homeowners have hired Toms River attorney Justin Lamb, who has started a class action lawsuit against multiple agencies.
“This community is over 50 years old and we’ve seen worse rain and worse snowstorms, and it never flooded before,” Santos said. “We are just looking to be compensated.”
Mayor John G. Ducey has called for an independent engineering study to determine what caused the flooding at Greenbriar and other homes near the Parkway.
“We don’t need the county engineer that designed the project to be the one to say ‘Oh yeah, there’s no problem.’ We don’t need a Freeholder three days after the flood to say ‘Oh yeah, it wasn’t us, don’t worry about it.’ We need somebody independent to look at that,” Ducey said during an August council meeting.
The county has recently hired an outside engineer to do the study, Ducey said in an Oct .3 email.
“We forwarded them all the videos and photos that we received from our residents as well as our police drone footage,” he said.