Shakia Garrett, 33, drowned in a flash flood on Wednesday in Elizabeth, N.J., as she attempted to save her three neighbors. The torrential downpour from Tropical Storm Ida proved too strong for the Oakwood Plaza apartment complex where they lived, causing the endangered family to perish in the storm along with her.
“That day she called me and told me, ‘I can’t swim, mommy,'” Sharon Garrett, Shakia’s mother, told NJ.com of the harrowing phone call she received just before her daughter died. Sharon lived in Roselle, N.J., just three miles west of Elizabeth.
“She was crying,” Sharon said of Shakia Garrett’s last phone call. “We just couldn’t get to her.”
One of Shakia’s friends, Salaam Ismiall, said that she was visiting her neighbors, Jose Torres, 38, and his parents Jose Torres Sr., 71, and Rosa Espinal, 72, and came back to them right after the flood hit Elizabeth.
“As the water started getting crazier, she tried to get them out of there,” Ismiall recalled, but it “did not take long for the water to… burst through the toilet and started gushing.”
“I consider her a her,” Salaam Ismiall said of Shakia Garrett.
Shakia and the Torres family were four of the 27 people claimed by Tropical Storm Ida flooding in New Jersey, which suffered the worst out of any state in the nation from the storm.
The youngest of eight children, Shakia Garrett “was the sweetest girl who got along with everybody” her mother said. “She had a very good heart.”
Only a few of the victims have been identified by authorities, or grieving loved ones, as the state attempts to clean up and rebuild.
“They were just in their home and then the next thing you know, eight feet of water,” said Pascual Torres, 44, cousin to the deceased family. “How do you survive that?”
“Everybody’s taking it pretty hard,” he said of the family. “I mean, you could only imagine you wake up in the morning and you hear about a storm that went through, and all of a sudden you find out that you had some family members perish.”
President Joe Biden declared that the flooding disaster in New Jersey would be granted federal funds to help repair homes and provide temporary housing. He plans to visit the damaged areas on Tuesday, Sep. 7.
“All of these deaths are related either directly or indirectly to flooding and water, either in cars or homes,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said. “It’s an absolute tragedy.”
In Woodbridge, N.J., where the flooding was especially sudden, a 56-year-old woman named Sunanda Upadhye was reported missing by her husband when she did not return home from work. Authorities later found her, describing that she was swept away by the flood as she was walking home.
Others, like most who perished in the flood, were trapped in their cars, such as, Daphnee Francisca Lopez Del Bono, 30, of East Amwell, and Cheryl Talke, a 61-year-old woman from Montgomery.
Another unidentified 81-year-old man drowned trying to evacuate his vehicle in Union County. A brave citizen reportedly pulled him out of the water and attempted CPR before union firefighters pronounced him dead.
When asked if the death toll would rise in the coming days, Governor Murphy sadly responded that “while the flood waters have receded, we’re still not out of the woods yet.”
“We still have damage that we’re dealing with, we still have floodwaters significantly higher than normal,” he said. “It may be a long road.”