Strangers helping strangers: Ida’s flooding prompts great examples of heroism
At least 30 people died in New Jersey on the night that the remnants of Ida brought massive flooding to the Garden State. Many drowned in their cars or on flooded roadways.
But one Bridgewater man is credited for saving eight people. And then he was also the recipient of a stranger’s helping hand.
Janice Brown was at her parents’ house in Bound Brook on the night of the storm, making sure that they would be OK. As they watched news of a tornado watch in their area, they heard a loud knock on the front door.
“I go out and it’s pouring and there’s six people in the driveway saying it’s an emergency. ‘We need help,’” Brown says.
Soaked, scared and frazzled, the strangers had escaped vehicles stranded in rising floodwaters on a nearby section of Highway 22. They had been saved by UPS driver Nick Dirla.
“Right in front of me, there’s a woman on top of her car, fully flooded, slowly floating, screaming, “Help! You gotta help me,’” Dirla says.
Dirla’s own stranded truck was the highest point in the flood, an island of safety for drivers whose cars were floating away.
Dirla plucked one woman off the roof of her car as it floated by, and pulled others through their car windows until his truck was full. When Dirla’s own truck began filling with water, the group made a run for it.
“We’re walking with the water up to our chest, through the highway with all our belongings above our heads,” Dirla says.
They finally made it to the Browns’ front door.
“They all just seemed so scared and desperate,” Brown says.
Brown used her Jeep to shuttle the group in two trips from her parents’ house to her own home in Bridgewater. She and her husband, Jim Soule, gave them a change of clothes and heated up a frozen pizza.
“They wanted to talk about what happened that evening. Hung out, kind of got to know each other, and that’s it,” says Brown.
Three of the drivers were eventually picked up by family members that night. But with many local roads impassable, Dirla and one older couple spent the night.
“Nick’s father actually dropped off a thank you note to us and the older couple sent one in the mail too,” says Brown.
Dirla used his truck to rescue drivers that night. Two of them did not go to Brown's house. Brown's husband Jim, it turns out, is also a UPS driver, but did not know Dirla prior to the flood.