The Bound Brook Flood of 1999

I survived a year of Chicago weather, including the Blizzard of 1999, which resulted in the second heaviest snowfall in recorded history.   But now I had moved to the boring but cosy weather of New Jersey, and boy was I looking forward to it.   I found a nice apartment in South Bound Brook, tucked into a loop of the Raritan river, with the picturesque D&R canal running alongside.   I had four weeks of nice weather - why, I even brought some light rain with me which broke the drought which had brought water restrictions throughout New Jersey, one of the worst droughts in the last 30 or 40 years.

The first sign that things might not be quite normal was on Thursday, when the company I was working for closed down at midday because of the arrival of torrential rains from hurricane Floyd, which had skirted the East Coast from Florida all the way up to New York.  Seemed like a mild over-reaction to me, but what could I do?  However, the bubble really burst on Friday, September 17.   The first clue that something was happening was the helicopters, three or four of them, hovering incessantly above my bed as I tried to sleep.  It would have been a perfect day, with clear blue skies and bright sunshine, except for those helicopters.   Still, I thought, something interesting must be happening, so I'll take my camera along when I drive to work.   A short trip to the freeway entrance and then I'll see what the fuss is about.

Only there was no freeway entrance, or at least none that was visible below the rust red water covering the road.  A quick photo or two and I'd head back up canal road, over the bridge into Bound Brook proper, and head to work.   Wrong again!  Canal Road and the canal and the river had all joined into a beautiful union of swiftly flowing muddy water.  The bridge was covered with flotsam, drums, tree trunks and branches.  And there was no escape by driving South East along canal road either - all around South Bound Brook the roads were flooded and closed.

I wasn't the only one who got caught napping by the rising water.   Scattered around were flooded cars, either driven optimistically into water which was too deep, or parked by the side of the road and inundated when the waters rose during the night.   And worse, low-lying houses and businesses ended up underwater as well.  On the North side of the river, a Harley Davison store went up in flames and took a whole row of stores with it.  Surrounded by 10 foot waters, the only way to fight the fire was with river water dropped from helicopters carrying monsoon buckets.

The flood became a real community event, with people setting up deck chairs, kids enjoying themselves in their own inimitable way, and various television crews doing their thing.  The flood became a national news story, and the pesky helicopters didn't leave until late on Saturday night.  I finally did find a circuitous route out of South Bound Brook, and got to work half way through the afternoon.  The aftermath of the flood kept the area in the news for many weeks afterward, but for many people the after-effects of their property damage will last a lifetime.

Finally, although the flooding was widely blamed by the news media on hurricane Floyd, I'm especially proud to announce that I myself discovered the true cause of the devastation.