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Paterson, N.J. residents torn between trying to ride out flooding or heading to higher ground

Residents in north New Jersey still coping with flooding from Passaic River
Residents in north New Jersey still coping with flooding from Passaic River 02:00

PATERSON, N.J. -- Some Paterson residents have been forced out of their homes, yet again, by rising water.

Roads remain underwater

Thursday, flood management operations in the city were in full swing. The mayor says 18 streets are closed and more closures could come, depending on when the river crests.

"All our swift water assets and flood assets right now are at the ready, waiting for any additional calls that may come in. Right now, the majority of the streets that are affected by the flood waters have been closed," Paterson Fire Chief Arthur Woods said.

Some neighbors living on flooded streets were prepared for the rising waters. They say they cleared out their basements, packed an emergency go bags, and even have their pets ready to go.

City leaders are closely monitoring the Passaic River. They say those living in flood zones do have a place to go; the Riverside Vet Center is open, and accommodating for pets as well.

City officials want drivers to stay away from any flooded roadways.

For residents still at home, officials say help is ready.

"We recommend that if you're in a known flood area or are prone to flooding, then we do recommend that you evacuate, however if you choose to stay and you want to evacuate later on, the fire department's at the ready to come in with our high-water vehicles to remove you," Woods said.

"Just if an emergency happens, we have a bag packed ... A couple weeks of clothes, things like that," Paterson resident Debra Proctor said.

Flood waters surrounded Ganesha Betts' apartment. CBS New York's Naveen Dhaliwal had to speak with her by cell phone.

"I'm just stressed out and worried, don't know where we are going to go. Very worried," Betts said. "My basement, I can't even go down there, there's so much water."

In addition to the flooding, city officials are monitoring the drop in temperatures. They say a warming center is open at 60 Temple St.

They are also closely watching for more rain over the weekend.

In Little Falls, those living up against the Passaic are dealing with flood yards and basements. Despite all the preparation, they're going to sleep uneasy -- if they sleep at all.

In Norman Valdez's basement, water trickled steadily through the back door, despite his attempts to seal everything. From his back deck, you can see the scope of the flooding as the river has taken over his backyard.

"We are, like, two feet," he said.

Residents making tough decisions -- stick it out or evacuate

"It's starting to get higher and higher. It's getting higher quicker than normal," Paterson resident Wanda Jackson said.

Jackson's home on Bergen Street is once again surrounded by water. At the end of her dead-end block, the Passaic River is bursting out of its banks.

"I try to stay hopeful, you know? I try," Jackson said.

It's a familiar scene. She's grappling with the decision to stay and ride it out, or leave.

On Tuesday, her husband, Edward, got a medical transport out as a precaution. He uses a wheelchair and didn't want to be trapped by high water yet again and miss another dialysis appointment.

But Wanda said her dogs wouldn't do well in a shelter environment, and her grown daughters want to stay.

"I really don't know what to do. I really don't know," she said.

Watch Nick Caloway's report

Paterson, N.J. residents torn between trying to ride out flooding or heading to higher ground 02:00

Just down the block, Michelle Ortega got a ride out in a friend's 4x4. She headed for higher ground at a hotel.

"It's just traumatic. It's annoying. It puts a dent in all my savings that I'm trying to save to get out of here," Ortega said.

The water surrounding the homes is absolutely filthy. It reeks of chemicals and gasoline, and just about everywhere you look, there's trash and trash bags floating.

And it just keeps coming.

Back at Jackson's house, tensions rise with the water. One flood after another is taking a toll on her.

"You don't know what choices to make and if you're making the right choices, but I know, as a parent, I can't leave my children behind, no matter how old they are. I can't," she said.

A couple hours after that interview, Jackson sent CBS New York a text saying she and her daughters were indeed headed to a hotel.

She said that's not something she can really afford, so she'll have to use rent money to pay for her room.

The Passaic River in Paterson is expected to crest Thursday evening. Police are urging people not to drive through high water.

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