FLOODSStorm Drains Keep Swallowing People During Floods

By Topher Sanders

Published 14 December 2021

An alarming number of people (especially children) have drowned after disappearing into storm drains during floods. The deadly problem should be easy for federal, state and local government agencies to fix, but tragedy strikes again and again.

On the night of Sept. 1, Dhanush Reddy and his fiancee, Kavya Mandli, were returning home from a North Jersey mall when the remains of Hurricane Ida turned their drive perilous.

Rain pounded down, soaking the streets with so much water that cars stalled and police shut down traffic. They felt their own car rattling, and they abandoned it in a nearby lot. Deciding they’d walk to safer ground where Mandli’s brother could pick them up, they waded hand-in-hand into murky water “until we reached the middle point of the road,” Mandli recalled, “where it just sucked us both inside.”

They were both suddenly underwater, being pulled toward a large black vacuum that seemed to be guzzling anything and everything into its wide, open mouth. Mandli managed to grab part of a bridge railing, but Reddy clutched only her hand. She shouted for help as she tried to wrest her fiance from the vortex. But it was just too wet, too slippery. Reddy disappeared. Mandli was left holding his empty jacket.

As South Plainfield police searched for Reddy, who had been sucked into a 3-foot-wide stormwater drainage pipe that ran underground, they looked where they thought it might spit him out, on the other side of the road. Mandli’s heart jumped when they told her they found a man hanging from a tree branch and calling for help.

But it was 18-year-old Kevin Rivera, who had also been pulled into a drainage pipe. “I was completely underwater,” he told ProPublica. “I couldn’t grab a grip to hold on to anything. I just covered my head with my arms and just sort of tried to ride it out till I came out on the other side or maybe got a little gasp of air.”

Reddy’s body was found the next day in a wooded area, blocks away from where he got pulled in. The engineer and construction project manager was dead at 31.

During the same storm, in the same state, three others died the same way.