July 19, 2023

Safety Officials View Last Weekend’s Storms As the “New Normal”

By Anne Levin

The fast-moving downpour that left at least five people dead in Lower Makefield Township, Pa. this past weekend was not as destructive in Princeton. But with 3.6 inches of rain falling on already saturated ground in less than an hour, the area was not without incident.

According to Michael Yeh, Princeton’s director of emergency services, the storm’s impact was centered on the north end of the town. There were two water rescue responses — one at Route 206 and Mountain Avenue; the other at Christopher Drive, just off Rosedale Road.

“They weren’t critical. The water was just fast-moving and it disabled their vehicles,” Yeh said of the rescues, which involved the Princeton Fire Department and Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. But while the area escaped devastating impact, Yeh cautions that a life-threatening scenario could occur at any time.

“Unfortunately, there is a lot more localized, very intensive rainfall than in the past,” Yeh said. “We saw upwards of six inches in Bucks County and Hopewell on Saturday. These kinds of storms are much more frequent. They used to call them century storms, and now we’re seeing them a couple times a year.”

About six trees fell during the storm, and some electrical wires came down, causing traffic lights to go out. There was some damage to Great Road between Preserve Drive and Stuart Road. “The edge of the road on the southbound side was deteriorated because of the rainwater runoff, exposing a gas line,” said Yeh. “PSE&G made repairs and fixed it the next day.”

Also impacted was Pretty Brook Road near Brooks Bend, where debris was in the roadway. The Princeton Fire Department cleared it away and reopened the street. Princeton’s Department of Public Works cleared storm drains, which Yeh urges homeowners to do as well.

“We want to ask everybody to clear storm drain inlets near their own properties,” he said. “That will keep their homes safe from flooding. If they can’t do it, contact us.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, rescue works had still not located the missing infant and toddler who were swept away in the Saturday storm on Taylorsville Road in Bucks County, Pa. The children are from a family of six whose car got trapped by rushing waters during the torrential downpour.

The father and grandmother of the South Carolina family, who were visiting relatives in the area, managed to escape with their four-year-old son. But the mother and two younger ones were swept away. The mother, who has been located, did not survive. Among the other people killed in the storm, which swept away some 11 vehicles, are a married couple and two other women.

Area emergency personnel and police urge the public to play it safe during weather events. “The biggest thing for us is to ask people to stay off the road during a storm,” said Captain Christopher Tash of the Princeton Police Department. “Some streets can flood very quickly. This is not only for their safety, but for the safety of first responders and utility trucks that go out there.”

In the case of the motorists on Taylorsville Road, “The flood waters overtook them. They didn’t drive into the flood — at least that is my understanding,” said Yeh. “But when there is a flooded road, it sometimes may seem that it’s not that deep. It’s hard to judge. So don’t take that chance.”