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Courage Amidst Devastation

Hard Hit Towns Rally
to Help Storm Victims

 Kyra Duran
By Kryra Z. Duran
NJM Managing Editor

New Jersey Municipalities magazine thanks the towns that sent us information and photos to include in this special feature. We will be carrying additional articles on the topic in upcoming issues.

New Jersey’s municipal government leaders were pressed into service as never before by the destruction and disruptions caused by Hurricane Sandy. The largest storm to hit our state in recorded history, Sandy caused 36.9 billion in damages. It killed 38 people, left thousands homeless and cut power to 2.7 million homes and businesses.

boat rescue
Belmar Councilman Kevin Higgins makes a boat rescue

In the face of an unprecedented emergency, many of you worked around the clock to provide shelter, food, information and other assistance to your fellow citizens. City of Orange Township Mayor Dwayne D. Warren headed out his door with a chainsaw in his hand. Lake Como Councilmember Brian Wilton donned a wet suit to rescue those trapped by floodwaters. East Orange Councilwoman Sharon Fields spent her days distributing food. The same spirit took hold in communities across the Garden State.

Challenges Officials in Ocean City estimate that their city sustained $438 million dollars in damage. They expect the recovery effort to continue for many months to come.

arial photo of flooded houses

This photo of flooding on the bay side of Seaside Heights was taken from the Governor’s helicopter. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

In Sea Girt all but 762 feet of its 3,397-foot boardwalk was destroyed and 4,777 feet of new and existing sand dunes were flattened. Sea Girt’s ocean-front Pavilion incurred significant damage, as did its adjacent Lifeguard Headquarters and snack bar.

Ocean Avenue in Sea Girt was clogged with two to three feet of sand and about 40-60 feet of beach was lost to the waves.

For the first time in about 50 years, Sea Girt was separated from its northern neighbor, the Borough of Spring Lake, as the storm surge opened the old Wreck Pond Inlet between the two municipalities.

In Woodbridge Township, more than 1,700 residents filed for emergency relief with FEMA. Woodbridge Township filed a Preliminary Damage Assessment report seeking more than $15 million in FEMA reimbursement.

people waiting in line to buy gasolinePeople line up in Alpine for fuel for their generators. A local resident and his company provided their generator to electrify Alpine’s sole gas station. As you traveled around town, you could hear the hum of gas generators that would have been idle if not for the gas station being able to pump gasoline.

 

The City of East Orange was fortunate to suffer minimal amounts of flood damage; however, the damage due to high winds was disastrous. Hurricane Sandy downed 300 city-owned trees, and over 60 of those landed on homes and other property, such as automobiles.

To meet the challenge, East Orange had to enter into a contract with outside tree removal companies. At the same time, city employees worked extended hours and 2 dozen part-time workers were hired to expedite the clean-up effort. The trees had to be removed quickly to make way for leaf removal to avoid gutter and sewer backups and to allow PSEG access to some of the affected areas.

Rescues The Alpine Fire Department was kept busy with more than 30 calls during the storm, including rescuing a resident pinned under a fallen tree, evacuating those overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning from generators and furnaces, and putting out car fires.

rollar coaster in the ocean
The roller-coaster from Casino Pier in Seaside Park was left in the surf by Hurricane Sandy. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Flooding led to the need for a number of water rescues in Belmar. Officials there said the activation of the Belmar Water Rescue team, an all volunteer organization formed in 1995 to respond to the large number of drownings that occur after lifeguards leave for the day, proved invaluable following the hurricane. Water rescue team members were asked by the first aid squad to join them in responding to emergencies beginning on the morning of October 26 in anticipation of the flooding that might occur.

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Over 50 organizations and businesses gathered to donate water, canned goods, hygiene products and other necessities to storm affected families in Perth Amboy. After one day’s notice, donations filled the Perth Amboy community room. Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz is pictured in the front center.

Mayor of Orange

City of Orange Township Mayor Dwayne D. Warren, chainsaw in hand, took a direct role in recovery efforts.

As a result, when the storm surge hit, there were eight water rescue team members already activated and prepared to begin rescues. Due to the number of water emergencies, a total of 20 members were called in immediately after the surge hit at about 8:00 pm Monday night.

Most worked the first 24 to 36 hours without a rest. Boats, kayaks, rescue boards and swimmers worked to evacuate trapped residents and ultimately saved over 150 people, ranging in age from 18 months to 80 years.

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Lake Como Councilman Brian Wilton, Councilwoman-elect Virginia Kropac and water rescue team member Michael Dahrouge performing a rescue on Tuesday morning.

Governor Christie and President Obama

Governor Chris Christie greets President Barack Obama before an arial tour of the damage to New Jersey at Atlantic City Airport on October 31, 2012. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Belmar Water Rescue Team member John Feniello was praised as a hero along with Lake Como Councilwoman-Elect Virginia Kropac, by Belmar Councilman Brian McGovern after they rescued his wife during the height of the storm.

The storm surge in Elsinboro Township, estimated at 10 feet, damaged local roads and made its way more than 100 yards inland.

The Elsinboro Township emergency response team immediately went out to rescue those in need. Water was several feet deep and beginning to fill people’s homes.


Chatham Township Mayor Nicole Hagner, Harding Township Administrator Gail McKane, Harding Township Committeeman Nicholas Platt, Madison Mayor Robert H. Conley and Madison Councilman Robert Landrigan pose with a rented bus that was used by residents following Hurricane Sandy.  Madison chartered buses to New York as an alternative to NJ Transit after Superstorm Sandy disrupted train service. The borough notified the Chathams, Harding and Florham Park about the buses so residents of those towns also could be notified of the service.

 

Mayor Sean M. Elwell, who is also a volunteer firefighter, was able to work with both local and county emergency management officials to assure that all residents were safe and their homes were secure.

Public Works On October 28, the sign at the Borough Hall Building in Union Beach proudly displayed the announcement that John K. Haines, Director of Public Works, was chosen by the American Public Works Association as the 2012 Public Works Leader of the Year. The next day, much of the borough lay in ruins, decimated by Hurricane Sandy.

Mr. Haines, along with his staff at the Department of Public Works, assisted the first responders in the rescue of many residents and then immediately rose to the challenge of clearing debris.

Donations Almost immediately, the Senior Resource Center at the Union Beach Borough Hall building became a food and supply pantry. Borough leaders, employees and volunteers spent their days receiving and handing out what appeared to be an endless stream of necessities to the residents.

flooded road
Water completely covers Salem Fort Elfsborg Road in Elsinboro Township, making the road impassable.

 

The center became a gathering place where residents, volunteers and employees hugged, laughed and cried together. Donations arrived by truck from out-of-state, in boxes carried by residents and businesses from other New Jersey towns, and in shopping bags carried by "Beachers" looking to help their fellow residents.

In the weeks following the storm in Union Beach, hundreds of volunteers helped out by answering phones, delivering food and supplies, helping clear debris, working on homes, and basically doing anything that was asked of them. The borough’s employees worked non-stop to provide additional services to residents.

It was a similar scene in Ocean City where a volunteer team of construction workers, electricians and other utilities specialists donated their time to help get downtown businesses, restaurants and homes in living condition. They are working closely with Ocean City code and engineering officials as well as the local FEMA and SBA representatives.

Faced with the task of finding long-term solutions for displaced residents, Ocean City’s housing committee requested that second homeowners not affected by the hurricane consider donating or reducing the rental costs on their units to help those with housing issues.

Businesses in Ridgewood went “above and beyond” to accommodate residents with power, food and beverages.

Shelters The Alpine Town Hall and the Fire House sheltered people and its generator provided warmth and a charging station for phones and other electronics. Firefighters slept on cots in the station during the storm. The Department of Public Works worked throughout the storm, and for days after, clearing the roads of fallen trees and debris so that families were not trapped in their homes.

In Ocean City, Disaster Relief Centers were established to serve hot meals and to issue non-perishable food, clothing and cleaning supplies. A volunteer training center was set up to train and equip those who went door to door, up and down the island, to help with basic home repairs, cleaning/mold removal and moving.

damaged church

North Plainfield Borough Clerk Rich Phoenix shot this photo of North Plainfield’s historic Holy Cross Church with his cell phone on his walk to work.  According to members of the congregation, the damage was purely exterior. The tree missed their sanctuary and smacked into the steeple, breaking the stained glass window. Thanks to a generator, the church was able to serve as one of the borough’s four polling places on election day.

 

In East Orange, comfort stations for residents were opened in the East Orange Public Library, the East Orange YMCA, the East Orange Civic Center and the Bowser Family Senior Service Building. The stations gave people a warm location to power phones and laptops during the day. For those who could not stay in their homes, transportation to 24/hour county shelters was provided.

In Elsinboro Township the entire township committee assisted with staffing at the emergency operations center and temporary shelter.

The City of Orange Township had assistance from churches and schools that opened their doors to become feeding and comfort stations. The plan freed many key first responders to stay prepared, flexible and responsive.

The Borough of Sea Girt’s Recycling Center was kept open additional hours on a seven-day a week basis until regular sanitation and recycling services resumed. Halloween, while postponed, was eventually held in the Sea Girt Elementary School parking lot and was dubbed “Trunk n Treat,” as the children went from car to car to collect candy.

In Woodbridge the Community Center served as the State Office of Emergency Management Regional Emergency Evacuation shelter for seven days, housing hundreds of township residents and evacuees from Middlesex, Union and Monmouth counties. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members worked tirelessly to serve those who came to the Community Center for assistance. At the peak, there were 172 evacuees residing in the building.

As the storm surge rolled through, the Woodbridge Township Animal Shelter & Pet Adoption Center took on several feet of water. Shelter employees and volunteers safely evacuated all of the animals without any loss of life, and have worked to restore the shelter and services.

Communications In the City of East Orange, the reverse 911 calling system made it possible to provide residents with information such as the locations of comfort stations, emergency contact information and updates on restoration efforts.

In Ocean City, the municipal website, reverse 911, government access channel 2 and email blasts as well as social media (including twitter and Facebook) were used to update residents, second homeowners, businesses and vacationers. In addition, live operators were on call for extended hours to answer the countless calls coming in.


Volunteer work crews coordinated by OCNJ CARE help cleanup the bayfront district on the north end of Ocean City. (Photo by OC Tabernacle)

Ocean City also established a CARE Hotline number (1-855-622-2730) to assess callers’ needs and indentify the priority of the assistance requested. A website (www.ocnjCARE.org) and facebook page (ocnjCARE) were used to update followers on the most urgent needs for volunteers and donations, and to track the number of people helped to date. Information on storm assistance was translated for the Spanish speaking population.

League President and Mayor of East Windsor Township, Janice S. Mironov, considered communication a key element of her town’s response, “We provided regular emailed E-News Alerts, which we also posted on the website and provided to media.” East Windsor uses the County Reverse 9-1-1 System which has a data base of home phone numbers for emergency communications. As a result of suggestions post-Irene, the system now enables registration of cell phone numbers.

Looking Ahead As President of the League of Municipalities, East Windsor Township Mayor Mironov plans to follow up with other officials to discuss possible improvements to enhance communications and preparedness. She would like to see local leaders provided with reasonable timelines and action plans that include priority sites for mayors. “Working together we can all learn and maybe also reduce the stress and uncertainty of officials and residents,” said Mironov.

City of Orange Township Mayor Dwayne D. Warren believes severe weather in our area may become the new "normal." His township plans to conduct a complete assessment to improve on strengths and eliminate any weaknesses in its emergency management response systems.


Vice President Joe Biden, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Seaside Park Mayor Robert Matthies and other officials survey how the natural dunes protected homes in Seaside Park. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Sea Girt officials believe the construction of a 30-foot high, 30-foot thick sand berm that spanned a mile of the borough’s ocean front, prevented further flooding and damage to homes.

Woodbridge Mayor John E. McCormac noted that “The entire township came together to aid neighbors and family in a time of true need during the most severe storm to hit the East Coast of the United States in more than 100 years.”

His words of thanks were echoed by many New Jersey municipal leaders.

On Sunday, November 25, Ocean City’s C.A.R.E. Project hosted a Community Prayer Service to give thanks and reflect on all that occurred in Ocean City as a result of the storm. The service included uplifting music and remarks from the leaders of numerous religious denominations from Ocean City, city leaders, and heroes from the storm recovery.

According to those in attendance, hope, a restored faith in humanity, and a renewed sense of unity emerged throughout the entire Community of Ocean City. Many attested to a similar spirit of cooperation, caring and selflessness in their communities. We will need to nurture the positive energy that was created in the aftermath of the hurricane to move our state toward recovery and on to greater prosperity in the years ahead.

 

First Published in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 90, Number 1, January 2013

 

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