PATERSON, NJ (CBSNewYork) - Residents of flooded-out Paterson are desperate for relief from the continued flooding that is lingering long after Irene has blown out-of-town. Now they have a new concern: What is in the water that's fouling their homes and businesses.
"We've got to get HAZMAT in here to clean it up," Lincoln Park resident Diane Keefe. "I don't know how long it'll be before it's livable again."
Keefe is very concerned about the safety of her three children.
The flood waters that have overtaken the banks of the Passaic River sent it rushing fast and deep into the streets. There it has swamped cars, sewers and more. All of those fluids have been stewing at the feet of the flood victims. In some areas, the flood waters are still several feet deep.
1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg reports: Escaping The Trials And Tribulations Of Irene
Officials aren't sure of what exactly is in the brew. "I don't know, I don't know," said Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones. "I haven't done any testing. I can tell you, obviously feces, other forms of sewage debris from wherever, is now in this stream."
Emergency crews are wearing rubber suits for added protection in the area. Residents aren't so lucky and there's real concern about them wading in the witch's brew at their feet.
The Passaic River is finally receding, but it still has left Paterson, Little Falls and Pine Brook swamped.
Residents have been boiling water from the tap, but even that seems suspect to some.
"When I boiled it, I bottled it in my empty bottles and you can see that it's not clear. You can see that it is brownish-looking. And it tastes horrible," one woman told CBS 2's Lou Young.
David Lopez runs an auto salvage yard on Art Street which is still under water. He's also worried about water contamination.
"It gets into the car so there's nothing but oil and diesel fuel and all kinds things," said Lopez.
Officials are advising people to stay out of the water. They're concerned not just about oil and raw sewage, but also chemicals.
WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reports: Water Contamination A Concern In Paterson
The Health and Senior Services Department has opened a call center to field questions about health concerns stemming from Hurricane Irene. It will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and during the weekend and Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The number is: 866-234-0964.
1010 WINS' Steve Sandberg visited the beach in Belmar Thursday where many New Jerseyans who remain without power decided to escape the trials and tribulations of Irene by kicking back in the sand and surf.
"We have a freezer full of food that's gone. It's been hard," one Freehold woman said. "Sometimes you need some serenity, and serenity is definitely at the beach."
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty said Irene won't put a damper on Labor Day weekend saying that businesses and beaches are open and free parking is available.
"We're ready for people," Doherty said.
Stop & Shop Supermarket came to the rescue Thursday by providing 2,200 bags of ice to East Brunswick residents who remain without power in the aftermath of Irene.
Residents are hoping President Barack Obama's expected visit Sunday will help focus attention and aid on the area.
"I hope out of his visit, it will be worthwhile and that we can all benefit from it and not just be a stunt," Paterson resident Jerome Anthony told CBS 2's Jay Dow. "Not that he just showed up, but that he showed up and gave people the help that they needed or the funds that they need to get started all over again."
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA officials toured New Jersey Wednesday to get a first-hand look at the devastation.
New Jersey has been declared a federal disaster area, which will free up recovery funds.Those in Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic and Somerset counties can apply for disaster aid online, or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.
Five days after the storm, 84,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey remain without power.
WCBS 880's Monica Miller: Utility Restoration Isn't Universal
Andrew Clipper has become a known name to the customer service agents at his utility companies. He and his wife from Millburn have spent hours on the phone trying to coordinate communication between JCP&L, Verizon and the township.
"From a corporate perspective, the level of communication is extremely inadequate and the resource commitment is inadequate," he said. "But it's really just amazing that I have to basically coordinate all of this and organize all of this. Otherwise, I'd be sitting there for another week without power."
Homeowners like the Clippers want to know why PSE&G, a utility with twice as many customers as JCP&L, has restored power to its customers but JCP&L hasn't.
JCP&L spokesman Ron Morano says he understands their frustration. But he told WCBS 880 reporter Monica Miller, "There are different types of companies. There are different service territories. It's not an equal comparison."
Moreno wants people to be patient.
"We're going at this full force. We've got 400 tree crews out there, 400 hazard responders. The line and substation crews working are more than 330," he said.
What can be done to better protect New Jersey from flooding? Sound off in our comments section... .
for more features.