The past two days have been agonizing for the families of two people feared to have been swept away by Wednesday’s flash floods caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in Passaic.
The two have been identified as Nidhi Rana, 18, and Ayush Rana, 21, who were last seen Wednesday evening when Ayush’s car was caught in the floodwaters.
Friends and family members, anxious for any news, were standing by Friday as rescue crews searched the culvert where McDonald’s Brook leads toward the Passaic River and where witnesses said the pair were swept into the waterways under the city..
They watched as firefighters and more first responders searched at the culvert near Benson Avenue, making it 1,000 feet into the tunnel while the tide remained low..
“We’re at the mercy of the water,” said Fire Chief Pat Trentacost, who expected water levels to rise again later in the day, putting the safety of the search crews in jeopardy.
First responders then moved toward the Rutherford border. Firefighters went down manholes on Brook Avenue looking for the duo.
“We are talking [about] two promising young people who may have lost their lives,” said Passaic Mayor Hector Lora, who was on the scene with distraught family members hoping for a miracle.
Crews called off the extensive search mission Friday afternoon, but would continue to check the Passaic River periodically throughout the night, Lora said.
On Saturday, teams will return in full force, using drones, boats and helicopters to check the area, he added.
Passaic school district officials said both of their former students were “great kids with promising futures.”
Both Nidhi and Ayush Rana, who are not related, played tennis for Passaic High School.
The two were close friends, attending the prom together last spring when they were named king and queen by their peers. Family members said they were inseparable and the two families were close, emigrating from the same town in India.
Nidhi’s sister Disha described her as full of life.
“She loved to play tennis and she loves to dance,” Disha said. “She was very bougie. She loved expensive stuff.”
Nidhi was also a top student at Passaic’s Academy for Science and Engineering and began college.
On her Facebook page, she posted she had received certification as a medical assistant, phlebotomist and ECG technician. She had graduated with an associates degree, officials said.
“I am here to make both my parents proud Darshana Rana and Prakash Rana,” she wrote on her Facebook page last June.
Nidhi had just begun college at Seton Hall University and participated in the Division of Volunteer Efforts. The school sent an announcement Friday to its members offering counseling and prayers.
Disha said Ayush picked her sister up at 8 p.m. on Wednesday as the storm whipped into a frenzy.
“I just let her go even though it was raining,” she said, “She’s usually never home. She spends a lot of time with her friends and with Ayush.”
At first, she said, she wasn’t worried when her sister didn’t return home, because she was with Ayush.
“I trust Ayush,” she said. “I knew he would protect her.”
Disha had even let Nidhi take her umbrella but when midnight rolled around, they went looking and found the car at the culvert, their last known location.
“I didn’t expect the car to be flipped,” Disha said. “I had thought they’d be in the car waiting for the water to go down.”
Ayush had just transferred to Montclair State University, but hadn’t attended classes yet, MSU officials said. Classes started Friday.
His friend Vikas Rana said, while not related, he considered Ayush, “more like a brother.”
Passaic was hit hard by Ida on Wednesday into Thursday. A 70-year-old Clifton man died after his car was inundated early Wednesday evening near the underpass at Van Houten and Passaic avenues.
Check back for more on this developing story.
Matt Fagan is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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