August 3, 2016

Princeton Gets Drenched by Saturday Storm

The afternoon rain storm that soaked the Princeton area last Saturday paralyzed traffic and closed roads in several areas of town. But by Tuesday, most everything was back to normal.

More than seven inches of hard-driving rain flooded Hinds Plaza and sent water rushing into the Community Room of Princeton Public Library, raised water to unprecedented levels at Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor, and flooded Princeton High School’s boiler room and the orchestra pit in its performing arts center. Quaker Road, Route 206, and parts of South Harrison Street, Alexander Road, Nassau Street, Dodds Lane, and Hamilton Avenue were impassable because of high water levels. There was flooding between Princeton-Kingston Road and the border of Montgomery Township.

Police, fire, and emergency workers were kept busy all afternoon. “We had four water rescues,” said Princeton’s Emergency Management director Bob Gregory. “All were cars that tried to get through moving water. One car had seven people inside.”

The water rescues were on University Place by Dickinson Street, on Alexander Street at West Drive, on South Harrison Street, and River Road. A fire in a garage at the historic house known as The Barracks on Edgehill Street was quickly contained by Princeton firefighters.

“It looks like the garage flooded,” Mr. Gregory said. “The way the property slopes down, water got into the electrical system. But the fire department did a good job of holding it to the garage area. There was a lot of smoke damage in the house, though, and water damage to the basement and first floor. The person who owns it lives there and rents the attached cottage. Thankfully, the original part was not damaged.”

Princeton Public Library had to close Saturday afternoon when water began rushing into the first floor. The library reopened on Sunday. “We were really, really lucky. And my colleagues did an amazing job,” said library director Brett Bonfield. “They worked really hard for several hours and got the remediation company in.”

Mr. Bonfield was speaking from Venice, where he flew on vacation Sunday night. “I was called on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “By the time I got there, which was not long at all, they were getting people out of the building. They were afraid people would slip because water was coming in so quickly. Everybody jumped in with mops and vacuums, and got right on top of it. These really devoted people made sure things were settled before they left. It could have been so much worse.”

Most businesses on Palmer Square fared well in the storm. Dean Smith, co-owner of JaZams toy store, said that contrary to some reports, the store was not flooded and did not close. “The alley behind us was filled with water so we had some water come in from the wall and skylight,” he said. “But we contained it. We had a lot of staff here. We didn’t lose anything.”

The flooding at Princeton High School’s performing arts center was caused by water flowing in from Walnut Lane. In a statement issued Sunday, Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said members of the buildings and grounds crew came in Saturday during the storm and in the aftermath. “Working with a restoration company funded through our insurance company, they were able to pump out most of the water and begin cleaning up. We are still in the process of assessing any damage to equipment,” he said. “It appears that the storm system in the road outside the high school was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of rain that fell in a relatively short time on Saturday — five inches in under three hours.”

Mr. Cochrane added that administrators will be consulting with the town to find a solution to this recurring problem. (See a letter from Steven Hiltner in the Mailbox for more on this issue.) The performing arts center has flooded in the past during Hurricane Irene, in 2011, and two years earlier during Hurricane Bill.

Princeton received 7.23 inches of rainfall, coming in just behind Flemington, which got 7.46 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’ve had some different kinds of strange storms come through Princeton, with lots of wind and things like that,” Mr. Gregory said. “Engineering [department] was telling me they were wondering if this could fall into a 25-or-50-or 100-year rainfall record category. I’m not sure they’ve found out yet.”