‘You’re in limbo.’ Residents of Elizabeth apartment complex impacted by Ida work toward recovery

The New Jersey death toll from Ida stands at 30 people. Four of those victims lived in the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex in Elizabeth.

News 12 Staff

Sep 16, 2021, 10:14 PM

Updated 941 days ago

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The New Jersey death toll from Ida stands at 30 people. Four of those victims lived in the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex in Elizabeth.
All of the units in the building are now abandoned. The doors and windows are boarded up and entrances are guarded by Elizabeth police officers.
Three members of the Torres family and 33-year-old Shakia Garrett died in the building during the storm. Garrett was laid to rest on Wednesday.
“Shakia loved children. Everybody’s child was Kia’s,” says cousin Hassanah Smith-Thomas.
As the water was rising in Garrett’s apartment, her dog Mookie ran to unit 105 where the Torres family lived. Inside, Garrett could see that 33-year-old Jose Torres needed help getting his 70-year-old parents out, so she stayed to help.
Garrett was on the phone with her mother at the time, and then with a relative of the Torres family. But as the water rose, Garrett couldn’t swim and couldn’t get out. The dog was somehow able to survive.
“She could’ve said, ‘You know what? Let me get my dog. Let me leave. Let me call the police and get help for you,’” says Smith-Thomas. “But she didn’t do that. She said, ‘Let me help them.’”
People were still towing their cars away from the complex on Thursday. Others like Piette Johnson were trying to pull license plates off cars. The vehicles are now totaled and still in the back of the complex.
Johnson is living at a hotel and waiting to get back inside of the building.
“It’s tiring. It’s exhausting not knowing. You’re in limbo,” she says. “I just have to wait until I get a call to say you can come get your belongings.”
Police went into Johnson’s unit and retrieved her computer and vital documents. But she is waiting to be allowed inside to get the rest of her things and move on with her life.


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