‘I Can’t Swim, Mommy’: Mother of New Jersey Woman Who Died Heroically Trying to Save Her Neighbors During Ida Flooding Recalls Final Moments on the Phone with Her Daughter

A New Jersey woman was found dead on Thursday, Sept. 2, after trying to rescue her neighbors in a New Jersey apartment complex hit hard by the flooding caused by the then-former Hurricane Ida.

Before she died, 33-year-old Shakia Garrett called her mother Sharon, who lived just 3 miles away. “That day she called me and told me, ‘I can’t swim, Mommy,’” Sharon told NJ.com. “She was crying. We just couldn’t get to her.”

Before she died, 33-year-old Shakia Garrett called her mother Sharon, who lived just three miles away and told her she couldn’t swim. (Photo: Shakia Garrett/Facebook)

Garrett lived in Elizabeth, where more than 12 inches of rain fell between Sept. 1 and Sept. 2. Just in the apartment complex where Garrett lived, five lives were claimed by the floods, while 27 people across the state have died as a result of the storm.

According to Garrett’s friend Salaam Ismiall, she rushed to the home of neighbors Jose Torres, 71, Rosa Espinal, 72, and their 38-year-old son Jose to get them out after the deluge hit.

Ismiall said the water level got high very fast and began to burst through the toilet. By the time she made the call to her mother, the water was up to her neck. The three members of the Torres family did not survive. Garrett’s apartment and the Torres family’s apartment were both on the first floor.

“I consider her a hero,” Ismiall said. At least 50 people across the country have died in the storm, but New Jersey has the highest death toll of any state.

Garrett had been giving family and friends updates via texts, but suddenly, the texts just stopped. “All of a sudden she just stopped texting,” said Khadija Naim, a family friend. “I’m not thinking anything of it. I’m just thinking maybe she fell asleep or did something else in the house. I keep texting her and I’m like, ‘Okay, she’ll get back to me.”

Alyssa Green, Garrett’s older sister, described the scene of what it looked like to go to Garrett’s apartment early the next morning after earning that her sister had died.

“I head over to Oakwood Plaza and the scene … it’s crazy. As I approached the apartments, I saw the first one was wide open, the door off and everything that was inside [the apartment] was outside. I stopped right there because then I started to see my brother and my father walk toward me and I didn’t see my sister,” she told NBC.

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora described the chaos and heartbreak associated with the storm’s devastating effects.

“It’s such a challenge because there is no moving forward. It’s almost like grief in limbo. You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t know whether you’re grieving a loss, or you are still concerned whether missing individuals can be found — even though everything may say they won’t, you still hope for the very best,” Lora told CNN. Four other people remain missing in the state.

“She was the sweetest girl who got along with everybody,” Sharon said of Garrett, one of her eight children. “She had a very good heart.’’

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