Everyone knew another storm was coming. The only question was when.
“The preparation for Sandy goes back to Irene and those blizzards of 2010,” North Wildwood City Council President Patrick Rosenello said nearly a month after Hurricane Sandy crossed paths with the Jersey Shore.
Fears of what Tropical Storm Irene might do to the region in August 2011 led to the evacuation of all of Cape May County.
Rosenello said the city’s police chief, Robert Matteucci, had hoped to get some 5-ton trucks for use at that time, but when none were available, he started looking at other ways to get large vehicles able to travel through deep floodwaters or down snow-covered roads.
Matteucci came across a federal surplus program that allows municipalities and their law-enforcement agencies to obtain surplus military vehicles at no cost, with the only expense being the maintenance of the vehicles.
The city, and its neighboring towns, opted to take advantage of the program, and at the height of Sandy, about 20 of the Humvees and 5-ton trucks were traversing Five Mile Beach.
“They were an invaluable asset,” Rosenello said. “If you’re going to go through blizzards or something like Irene or Sandy, you need to provide services and you need the equipment to provide it.”
The city had a trailer capable of moving a fire department pumper truck, a 5-ton tow truck and a collection of other vehicles that could move when the city’s streets became inundated with floodwater.
High-water vehicles helped first responders spot and control a house fire that erupted during Sandy.
Two police officers patrolling in a high-water vehicle spotted the fire, while a pumper truck was able to get to the scene because it could be moved by a larger vehicle to the house on 18th Avenue, Rosenello said.
Rosenello pointed to the March Storm of 1962 and the fires that it spawned as an example of how things could have been different.
Farther north in Brigantine, police Lt. Jim Bennett, who serves as that community’s emergency management director, said the city has been using military vehicles for some time, but its boats were especially important during Sandy.
“I can’t even begin to talk about how important they were,” Bennett said.
The boats were used to collect residents who opted to stay on the island until the storm’s full power was recognized.
The city has two inflatable boats and five small boats, about 10 to 12 feet long.
“The Fire Department stopped counting at 110,” he said of the number of people rescued with the aid of the small fleet.
The boats carried people to staging areas, where 5-ton trucks waited to move them to safety.
Bennett said the city hasn’t had a formal discussion about preparations for future storms, but he said he would like to increase the number of high-wheel vehicles.
Both Brigantine and North Wildwood, like their neighbors, also prepare for storms in other ways, such as using sea walls, dune systems and water pumps to keep city streets clear.
North Wildwood, for instance, has a seawall that lines its north end.
“Its main purpose is to hold back the ocean,” Rosenello said of the wall, which has become a tourist attraction in its own right. “What saved North Wildwood was the blessing of geography, but also the seawall, a 14-foot dune system and beach replenishment.”
Brigantine suffered more serious damage than North Wildwood, but Bennett also credited dunes and the sea wall with reducing the damage caused by Sandy.
“There’s not much you can do short of a giant wall around the island,” Bennett said. “It’s called a barrier island for a reason.”
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