On the evening of September 1, 2021, I drove two families home from Kennedy Airport to Rivervale, NJ, where they live. It was the most terrifying night of my life.

Impending Doom

As we approached the George Washington bridge at around 8:00pm, it started to rain. We exited the bridge and made our way to Route 4 West. The rain grew heavier and steadier. Passing through Englewood on Route 4, the rain was so fierce, I couldn’t see five feet in front of me.

I was trying to follow the cars in front of me, being careful not to get too close to them. I also tried to stay in my lane by looking for the lane markers, but the rain was so powerful, I could not see them.

Wall of Water

Finally, we made it to the house where I picked up the families a week prior. They asked me to drive the members of the second family home, which was only about a mile away and I was happy to do it.

Driving down one of the streets, I saw the top half of a man standing next to his car. By the time I realized what was happening, I was in the middle of a huge puddle where the water was chest deep. I saw the water rolling off the hood of my 2019 Chevy Suburban and I knew if I stopped, my SUV would die.

I gunned the engine through a wall of water, passing the man standing next to his submerged car to my right. I know I must have drenched him, but I had to keep going or else I’d be stranded there all night.

Finally, we arrived at their home. They got out safely and made it into their warm, dry house.

Mission Accomplished!

Long Way Home

It took me three hours to make it home that night, because so many roads were closed due to the flooding.

I took the Garden State Parkway south but had to get off at exit 157 because it was closed further south at exit 148. After repeated attempts to get on Route 21 South, I changed course and took Route 3 East to the New Jersey Turnpike South to Route 78 West.

As I got closer to home, I tried taking side streets, but they were all flooded, littered with submerged cars. I used my critical thinking to find streets that were higher up and had not succumbed to the flooding.

I finally made it to Route 22 in Hillside and had to navigate around a sea of cars that were all abandoned in the middle of the road and on the side of the road. It looked like the end of the world!

The next morning, I saw all the destruction this flash flood caused, thanks to Hurricane Ida. Cars were abandoned everywhere and so many homes were flooded out and their property destroyed.

Although the Northeast did not experience this category three storm the same way New Orleans did, New Jersey lost 27 souls in the fast flood waters. An 83-year old man died close to where I live because he got out of his car when it died and was swept away by the flood waters.

I’m grateful I was driving a powerful SUV. It helped me get home without being stranded or swept away in a sedan.

The moral of this story: If you are trapped in a flash flood, stay calm and call for help. Don’t get out of your car and don’t try to drive through flood waters because you may not survive.

Article by RH Stovall, Jr

R.H. Stovall, Jr. is a Senior Executive Chauffeur, trainer and mentor for Royal Coachman Worldwide in Denville, NJ.

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