Hurricane Sandy may have moved on, but residents are still dealing with the aftermath, and could be for some time, according to township officials who revealed some disturbing statistics about the damage caused by the super storm.
The Financial Impact
During an emergency Township Committee meeting Thursday night, Cranford Police Chief/Interim Towship Administrator Eric Mason said the storm resulted in millions of dollars in damages in the township.
"Based on preliminary observations, as of today, we have over $6 million in public and private damages," Mason said, stressing the fact that this number is still preliminary.
Township commissions approved a special emergency appropriation of $775,000 to pay for repairs to township buildings and infrastructure resulting from Hurricane Sandy. Among the damages were the roof of the Hansen House garage, a portion of the township's parking deck, the sanitary sewer main from the intersection of Centennial and South avenues between Lincoln park East and the Rahway River. In addition, the storm sewer on Keith Jeffries Avenue and Orchard Street needs to be reconstructed and repairs and reconstruction are needed at the South Avenue sewer lining from South union Avenue to the Rahway Bridge.
Resolutions passed during the emergency meeting will allow Township Clerk Tra Rowley to advertise for bids for the work.
During the meeting, Mason confirmed that there was no major flooding in the township during Sandy, but powerful winds caused widespread chaos.
"All of our damages are wind-related," Mason said. During Hurricane Irene last year, flood waters caused extensive, long-lasting damage to many homes and businesses.
According to Mason, Hurricane Sandy — which was downgraded to a tropical storm and later referred to as super storm Sandy — caused at least 418 trees to topple over in Cranford. More than 218 of those trees fell on power lines.
"That's just an estimate. I'm sure that number will escalate," Mason said, pointing out that crews are still assessing the damage and downed trees are still being reported in some places.
Local Department of Public Works crews, Mason said, are unable to remove the trees and branches that have fallen on power lines due to safety issues involving the possibility that some of those lines may contain live wires.
"PSE&G has crews that are trained to do this work," the chief said.
Deputy Mayor Andis Kalnins added that the power company can check to see if the wires are active, and deactivate them so that trees and branches can safely be cut down.
Thousands Still Without Power
One of the biggest challenges the township still faces, mason said, is the loss of power. As of Thursday morning, PSE&G estimated that there were still 3,058 Cranford customers without power. Immediately following the storm, there were a total of 6,647 customers in town without power. Mason said it could be days before power is restored to the remaining homes and businesses. Earlier this week, PSE&G estimated a wait of seven to 10 days for restoration.
In addition to local substations, Cranford is serviced by substations in neighboring communities such as Roselle Park and Kenilworth, which are still not fully restored.
If residents need to report trees or branches that have fallen on power lines or power outages, they should call PSE&G directly at 1-800-436-7734.
Long Lines At The Gas Pumps
Mason said Cranford is one of a few towns in the area where power has been restored in areas where gas stations are location. This, he said, is part of the reason for the recent surge in traffic in town, specifically near gas stations which have power and are able to run their gas pumps.
On Thursday, two gas stations in town received fuel deliveries. Lines stretched for several blocks as customers from all parts of Union County and the surrounding areas flocked to Cranford in the hopes of filling their tanks. One station, located on the corner of Centennial and Myrtle avenues, had a line that stretched into Linden.
For a list of open gas stations in the Union County area, click here. The list is updated as stations close or new stations open.
Cleaning It All Up
Presently, Mason said there are four DPW crews out in town handling the cleanup, with one crew stationed in each quadrant of the municipality. As of Thursday, 12 blocked roadways have been cleared of fallen trees and power lines.
"It's a big job, we have a lot of mature trees in town and sometimes it takes four hours to remove a tree," Mason said.
The chief asked that residents separate leaves from branches when cleaning up their property. He also asked that, whenever possible, residents bring their debris directly to the Conservation Center. No permits will be required in light of the recent devastation. Officials said contractors should not be bringing their debris to the conservation center.
The emergency appropriations that officials approved during the meeting will allow the township to bring in additional DPW crews to help expedite the cleanup process in the coming days.
Shelter From The Storm
The Cranford Community Center served as a regional shelter during and after Hurricane Sandy. Since so many people are still without power, the shelter will remain open until next Friday, Mason said. It was originally scheduled to close this week.
On Oct. 30, 147 people checked in at the shelter. On Wednesday night, there were just over 90 people, but that number could increase again as the weather becomes cooler. The community center can accommodate approximately 220 people and can also take pets, although owners are asked to bring crates for the animals as well as food.
The shelter — which provides meals, cots, access to showers at the local swim club, WiFi, recreation and places to charge electronic devices — is staffed by Union County emergency management officials, local and county police the Red Cross and Slavation Army.
Praise for first responders
Residents and officials praised local police, fire, EMS and public works crews for their swift responses and hard work during and after the storm, during which there were two fires that were extinguished by the Cranford Fire Department as well as numerous transformer explosions.
"They all made me proud," Mason, who serves as the emergency management coordinator, said of the local first responders.
Township Attorney Phil Morin also praised the municipal employees who work in town hall for their accessibility and ability and dedication throughout the storm and in the days that followed.
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