State of emergency declared in Hamilton Township due to flooding, but Lake Lenape dam continues to hold
HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — Flooding continued in the township Tuesday, closing more roads and prompting an emergency declaration, but the Lake Lenape dam continued to hold, officials said.
The township declared a state of emergency because of flooding on local streets. Mayor Amy Gatto said she hoped residents would stay off the roads — especially in the middle of the township.
The closings included portions of Route 40 East, Main Street, Weymouth Road and Route 322, which has had a major impact on traffic. Gatto encouraged residents to use Route 54, Route 50 and the Atlantic City Expressway. She also noted that the malls and shopping centers on the Black Horse Pike east of Gaskill Park are accessible.
Some of the roads opened by late Tuesday, but Township Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Mattle said the state of emergency would remain until more opened. Mattle said the office has received many phone calls about traffic delays, but there is nothing the township can do at this point.
Roads in the center of Mays Landing and to Lake Lenape also are closed, but Township Administrator Mike Jacobs said the dam at the lake is built to handle the excess water, and officials do not anticipate problems. Township and Atlantic County officials maintained throughout the day the flooding was from the Great Egg Harbor and Mullica rivers and the dam had not been breached.
“The dam is secure and being monitored on an hourly basis,” Mattle said.
The dam has been a huge concern among residents and there have been multiple rumors that it breached.
Tara Wells, who lives on Mill Street, can see the dam from her backyard. Although water levels are high, she is not concerned and has not evacuated her family.
“Living near a dam there is always a concern, but I have to trust (local officials) when they say the dam will hold,” she said. “People are coming by to tell me to get the kids out. I say I’m fine and I’m staying right now. There’s a lot of misinformation out there right now. People keep Facebook messaging me to ask if I’m OK.”
Wells said people have been coming by to look at the dam even though the area is restricted.
“There’s an odd tension,” she said. “People come by and say, ‘You must be concerned living here.’ Usually it’s awesome living by the lake.”
Officials put a tarp on Mill Street that would funnel water in case it went onto the roadway.
“The kids think it’s a slip and slide,” she said.
Most of the businesses in the downtown district remained open, despite Main Street being closed north of Route 50 and heavy traffic congestion all day.
John Kurtz, president of the Mays Landing Merchants Association, said a lot of owners were concerned about the Lake Lenape dam but he assured them it would not be a danger.
“A lot of people were talking like it was going to explode, but it’s not,” he said.
Kurtz said the township did not place enough signage on the streets to properly direct all the motorists. Traffic was clogged in the downtown area all day.
But the traffic did help some of the local eateries, he said.
“People were getting so frustrated a lot stopped to get lunch,” he said.
Officials are optimistic the water will begin to go down soon, but for now residents are still uneasy about the high water levels at many area intersections.
Mays Landing resident Kevin Egolf questioned why the water level was not lowered more.
“It’s upsetting to me. All of this could have been avoided if we opened up the floodgates,” he said.
Jacobs said some residents have suffered property damage, but no serious damage to township land has been reported.
Crews are working to pump out the water from intersections and homes, he said.
Mattle said the water level stopped rising Tuesday, and he hopes the level will start to go down.
“We are optimistic but we have to play it one day at a time,” he said.
Residents came out in the neighborhood to inspect the area.
Debbie Murphy and her 10-year-old niece, MaKayla Brennan, put on their boots and sloshed through some intersections that were flooded with water.
The boots were not very effective.
“It doesn’t much matter,” Murphy said as her niece poured out water from her boot. “You’re going to have water.”
Murphy said her house was not affected by flooding but these are the worst conditions she has seen in years.
“I feel bad for the people living here,” she said. “You just can’t get away from it this time I think.”
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