Editor's Note: Bloomfield Patch freelancer Michelle Lee is a resident of the Troy Towers apartment complex in Bloomfield. She agreed to share her thoughts about what she saw earlier today and the damage left behind by the storm.
Hurricane Irene unleashed her heavy winds and rains last night and I could hear the steady pounding on my apartment windows throughout the dark. The glass panes held steady and the electricity stayed on.
But the real trouble started the morning after, once the heart of the storm left town.
I woke up to a choir of car alarms. I took a look out the windows at Watsessing Park and the Troy Towers parking lot. The whole area was quickly turning into a lake. The greasy brown water rose faster and faster, covering the basketball court and soccer field to the point where only the top of the hoop and goalpost could be seen. Only the roof of the community center was visible.
My car - my work and traveling lifeline - was quickly going under. So were about 40 other cars and vans.
A few people actually braved the waters to try salvaging their vehicles.
One of my neighbors, a doctor who gave only his first name, Sami, said the parking lot was clear when he woke up at 6 a.m. but he ran out to try and move his car at around 8:30 a.m. once the water table starting rising.
At first, the flood hit his knees and Sami thought everything would be alright since he witnessed one woman successfully drive her car to higher ground. Then the water rushed in.
"I sat in my car and it started to come up to my waist," he said. "So I ran out of my car and clung to the (parking lot fence) grill so I didn't drown myself."
Sami estimated he hung on the fence for about five minutes before the flooding stopped and he retreated. He returned about three hours later to clear out the remaining muddy waters and empty the car.
In retrospect, Sami said it was silly for him to take such a risk, but "when you see something you own, you want to save it."
He said he was thankful to have car insurance and he hoped his other vehicle, which he left at work in the lot of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, would be all right.
Sabrina Craig, a web programmer, said the flooding was worse than she expected and she was upset to lose many electronic items in her car, including her GPS, Bluetooth, CD player and clothing.
Had she known it would flood by Watsessing Park, Craig said she would have left her car on higher ground.
Craig's boyfriend, Eric Sommers, works as a car insurance adjuster. "It's going to be fun tomorrow," he said about going to work on Monday.
Another neighbor, Ozie Ryals, said the electricity in his car went haywire and it automatically rolled down his back windows during the rain. The interior of his car was covered in mud and the engine would not start.
Ryals said he was lucky the flooding only damaged small stuff: an iPod, cell phone charger and his daughter's car seat. His girlfriend, Lena Hill, had some damaged clothing and beach chairs.
Ryals, an officer with the Essex County Sheriff's Department, was on standby during the storm. He was going to let his car air out and hope that the insurance company will cover the losses.
The damage to my own car was pretty bad. The engine sputtered and refused to ignite. The car seats and floor were coated with mud and everything in my trunk, back seat and glove compartments was soaked: books, maps, a few pairs of shoes and some extra shirts and pants.
In the grand scheme of things, I'm thankful the damage I experienced is minor compared to other parts of the country. The water covered my car up to the dashboard, but I didn't get swept away in it. My home is still intact and I still have family and friends who care about me. Material items can always be replaced, and whatever the car insurance doesn't cover can always be bought again.
Ryals was philosophical about the situation as well. He summed it up best.
"I always found Mother Nature and storms interesting, like that little earthquake the other day," Ryals said. "But at the end of the day, you really can't prepare for Mother Nature."