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Paralyzed soccer coach says fears of flooding near his New Jersey home has led to extreme anxiety

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DEMAREST, NJ — A beloved coach from Bergen County who uses a wheelchair fears for his life every time it rains.

A creek near his home is cause for concern. CBS2’s Meg Baker spoke with officials Monday about flood mitigation plans.

On a calm day, a lazy stream is quiet as it drifts under Ross Avenue in Demarest, but during the remnants of Hurricane Ida it raged like a river. The culvert is not wide enough to handle the amount of water that flows down from towns above.

Just a few feet separate the small estuary from Jason Rueda’s home.

“I end up seeing water coming through the side of edges of door, underneath. The floor geysering up. Your life quickly goes before your eyes,” Rueda said.

“It’s upsetting. I came and bought some sand bags and stuff and made sure he was safe and moved him to the other side of the house,” friend and neighbor Carlos Molina said.

Reuda’s room, which is retrofitted for a wheelchair, was destroyed, but has since been repaired, thanks to generous donations. Just six months prior, members of the community fundraised to buy Rueda a new van that he could drive himself, to soccer practices and other appointments.

“It was exciting. It was like a new life for me. For me, it was like a sports car,” Rueda said.

That, too, was totaled, leaving Rueda isolated at home. Neighbors responded by starting a meal train.

Rueda says even during a normal rainstorm the water comes up over the ledge and reaches the concrete.

“Jason is one of the founding members of our local soccer organization and a volunteer at high school for years coaching on the girls varsity side,” said Chris Eftychiou, executive director of coaching for Vikings FC.

Rueda was paralyzed in a pool accident in the 1990s.

“He made it a point to come back to the community and give back to the community. With that, the community really embraces him,” Eftychiou said.

“This is a sad thing because it made him kind of insecure in his own house,” Molina added.

Local officials say they are in touch with county, state and federal officials to address the flooding issues there and in other areas in town. Funds are needed for the remediation projects. Congressman Josh Gottheimer said the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is intended to aid climate resiliency projects like this.

“It’s one of the projects I’ve reached out to the governor’s office about because the resources that we in a bipartisan way got for New Jersey go to the governor’s office and we have to make sure they get to communities like Demarest,” Gottheimer said .

“Even though I’m in this situation, I do feel blessed and inspired. When the community does something like that for me and for others, I just want to keep giving back,” Rueda said.

Rueda said he hopes something can be done as soon as possible, adding he lives in a state of anxiety with each bad weather report.

Local officials say most of the issues were caused when a dam broke, overloading nearby smaller creeks.

CBS New York team

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