Tropical Storm Isaias moved through the Newark area Tuesday, closing roads, flooding backyards and forcing officials to evacuate a South College Avenue motel.
The storm dropped 4.53 inches of rain at the University of Delaware farm, and 5.37 inches in White Clay Creek State Park, according to UD’s Delaware Environmental Observing System.
However, Newark appeared to escape without any significant wind damage, such as what happened in southern New Castle County and Kent County, where tornados were spotted.
“We came out of it relatively unscathed,” Mayor Jerry Clifton said. “We were blessed not to have any major damage.”
The rain began overnight and increased in intensity after daybreak. The fast-moving storm was out of the area by around 1 p.m., and by mid-afternoon, the sun was shining and the skies were blue.
Most of the flooding in Newark was a result of the Christina River over-spilling its banks. According to the National Weather Service, the river crested at 13.98 feet at Cooch’s Bridge, which is the highest level in recorded history, just eclipsing Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Hurricane Irene in 2011. Under normal conditions, the river is about 5.6 feet deep.
Flooding was reported all along the river, including in the Cherry Hill, Binns and Silverbrook neighborhoods. Among the roads that were closed were Nottingham Road, Church Road, Casho Mill Road, Barksdale Road, Elkton Road, West Chestnut Hill Road and Welsh Tract Road.
The most serious damage appeared to be at the Rodeway Inn, which is located on South College Avenue and backs up to the river. Around 11:30 a.m., water from the river flowed into the parking lot and began coming into the first floor rooms. Police and firefighters went door-to-door telling guests to leave and were able to get all 200 out safely without the need for boats or rafts, Newark Police spokesman Lt. Andrew Rubin said.
Some of the guests are local homeless people for whom the state is paying to stay at the motel during the pandemic. The city arranged for a bus to take 25 of them to Glasgow High School, where the American Red Cross was operating a shelter.
No injuries were reported, and the motel was temporarily closed by the city’s building department. The motel also flooded out during Hurricane Irene and underwent extensive renovations before reopening.
On Rahway Drive in Cherry Hill, floodwaters covered part of the road and creeped into the surrounding yards. An Aetna, Hose, Hook and Ladder Company crew had to rescue people from a car that was caught in the rising water. A couple blocks away, the flooding covered Barksdale Road near Pilgrim Baptist Church.
At the corner of Gravenor Lane and Elkton Road, Fred Smith watched as floodwaters from the river covered Gravenor Lane and inundated his yard and flooded his detached garage. The water, which spared his house, came up past Smith’s knees as he waded into the yard.
After living there for 19 years and making it through past hurricanes, Smith said he knew to prepare for the storm by moving lawnmowers and other equipment to higher ground and parking his vehicle at a neighbor’s house.
“The worst part for me is as soon as it all goes away, I’m left with all the silt,” he said. “I tease my friends, come on over, I’m having a garage cleaning party.”
On West Chestnut Hill Road, flooding covered the road between Plymouth Drive and the entrance to Rittenhouse Park. The swelling Christina River, which flows under the road, spilled over the bridge and into the surrounding area.
Neighbors came out of their houses to watch the water rise and swap stories about previous storms. As the water appeared to threaten a few properties on Minquil Drive, residents moved vehicles and other items to higher ground, and firefighters dressed in water rescue gear trudged through the water to check on residents. Ultimately, the water receded before affecting any of the homes.
The river also flooded the parking lot of a business complex, where a Renewal By Andersen Window Replacement work truck was parked in one of the lowest areas of the site. A neighbor called the company and warned it of the impending flood, but by the time an employee arrived, the water was up to the hood, and the truck was immovable. The resident said she has seen cars get swept down the river in past storms, but fortunately that did not happen Tuesday.
Similar flooding was seen just downriver on Welsh Tract Road, where water blocked the road and entered the garage of Service Trucking, Inc., which is located behind the Sunoco gas station and across from Boston Market.
Donna Wood, who owns the family-run milk trucking company, said it’s not the first time the business has been flooded, and employees prepared by parking most of the trucks elsewhere.
Workers were starting to clean up the mess as Wood watched from her vehicle.
“I was watching on the cameras until the electric went off, and then I had to come see what was going on,” Wood said.
A few truck tires were swept away by the flood, but other than that, the business made out relatively well, she added.
The White Clay Creek also surpassed its flood stage, cresting at 13.35 feet, but fell well short of the record set during Hurricane Floyd.
Paper Mill Road was briefly closed, and by late afternoon, parts of Timothy’s parking lot, Curtis Mill Park and Old Paper Mill Park were still flooded. At the height of the storm, water covered Curtis Lane, a short residential road that parallels Paper Mill Road across from Timothy’s, but did not enter any of the houses. It did open a sinkhole, which one resident said has happened there before. The neighbors covered it with a board and were waiting for the city to come fix it.
In addition to the flooding, a number of neighborhoods saw power outages, including Old Newark, Lumbrook, Stafford, Preswick Farms and Silverbrook, according to Newark spokeswoman Jayme Gravell. At the height, there were 900 customers without power, and the number was down to 29 by 4 p.m.
With the outages handled here, the city of Newark is planning to send an electric crew to help out Dover, which will likely have power out for an extended period of time.