Hightstown, submerged: Emma Watkins '14

Emma Watkins '14 shares her experience with the cleanup of downtown Hightstown after Hurricane Irene. Photos by Doug Mariboe '69.

It was really quite a shock to see Hightstown so completely submerged after Irene. On Sunday morning Peddie lake had overflowed its banks and filled downtown with water that came all the way up to the Wells Fargo bank. The water was rushing over the bridge and there was actually a car abandoned in the middle, submerged to the tops of its windows. It was so dramatic that a photograph of downtown Hightstown ended up on the front page of weather.com. I was really worried for all the local stores, especially Molto Bene, which looked like it was under about 5 ft. of water. Ms. Clements sent an email to the Peddie community asking for volunteers, and I went with my mom at nine on Monday morning to join a big group of faculty and staff to offer our help to the businesses downtown. For a few hours, we moved dozens of boxes of soggy files from the basement of the Public Works building and tried to rebox and label them. Walking home afterwards, we had to detour on roads behind the fire station because the bridge was being checked for structural damage. After lunch, we moved furniture out of the Tavern on the Lake, sliding around on muddy floors, as if ice skating.

That evening, Molto Bene sent out a request for helpers, so we all went back into town. The damage was just incredible: the floors were thickly coated in mud, the machinery was filled with contaminated water, and a good number of their pastas and sauces needed to be thrown away. I actually saw bags of pasta lying in the gutters along main street, and found another one inside the Tavern on the Lake. Lots of people were already there by the time I arrived, moving out the salvageable food and machinery. Megan Mooney ('14) and I were working to clear out some of the mud, using squeegees and brooms and shovels. The smell was absolutely awful and, as soon as a surface was clean, someone would roll by another piece of machinery, spreading more muddy water.

The most amazing part was the sheer number of people that were there, not just from Peddie, but from all over East Windsor. And even though the businesses around town will need a long time to recover, the help that they received from the community was immense, and the owners were very grateful.