South Jersey is slowly recovering from an unprecedented storm that crippled the region’s infrastructure in advance of the July 4th holiday.
“Unfortunately, there’s so much damage, it’s going to take time to account for all of it,” said Ed Conover, deputy coordinator of the county Office of Emergency Management. “This was a no-notice event and everyone in our office was impacted — most of us don’t have power.”
Much of the cleanup cost is due to the amount of manpower needed to keep the county going with its electric lifelines severed, Conover said. It doesn’t include damages to homes and businesses.
Things were starting to return to normal, he said, with generators now operating lights at major intersections and employees working in shifts, so they could take care of their homes and families. Conover’s own Mays Landing home was still without power, he said.
Electric crews continued to work around the clock to restore power. As of 2:30 p.m., fewer than 65,000 customers were still in the dark, down from 93,000 on Monday afternoon.
Matt Likovich, an ACE spokesman, said the goal is to have the majority of customers' service restored by sometime Wednesday. The remainder may not have power restored until Thursday or Friday.
Elsewhere, municipal and county public works employees removed fallen limbs and other debris from roadsides Tuesday, a process officials say could take weeks. A steady stream of vehicles showed up at Hamilton Mall where emergency personnel distributed bags of ice and bottled water to those without power. Atlantic County Utility Authority workers, meanwhile, kept four sewer pumping stations running on generators.
The latter effort is one of the lesser-known dramas associated with the storm, said ACUA President Rick Dovey.
“When you flush your toilet, sewage goes into a local collection system run by the town or a municipal utility authority and then to one of our pump stations,” he said. “If they don’t have power, they won’t work.”
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, those stations backed up with sewage that couldn’t be processed. Dovey said ACUA had to act quickly to hook them up to generators or risk untreated sewage backing into the area’s waterways. The scarcity of operating gas stations made for a nail-biting few days as crews tried to keep the generators fueled.
As of Tuesday morning, four stations — in Egg Harbor City, Mays Landing, Northfield and Somers Point — were still without power.
Emergency personnel distributed bags of ice and bottled water at Hamilton Mall to a steady stream of vehicles.
Dovey said the next challenge for ACUA is dealing with an influx of yard waste from all of the trees felled by the storm. Recycling and trash collection will continue as normal today, he said, but the yard waste may take a while to collect and mulch.
“The normal collection time allocated is not going to be sufficient, so we’ll keep coming back all week and maybe into next week,” he said. “But we’re going to keep collecting until we get it all picked up.”
If there’s any upside, it’s that the week of July 4th was already the utility’s busiest week and additional employees were already slated to work overtime. To help those crews out, Dovey said homeowners should try to cut limbs into 4-foot-long lengths and avoid discarding limbs more than six inches thick. They should also try to bundle material together, but not bag them in plastic.
“This makes collection a little faster, and it speeds the whole process up,” he said. “But we recognize not everyone is going to be able to comply or want to comply, so we’re not going to be hard and fast about any of that.”
Municipalities who operate their own solid waste disposal have also started the clean-up process.
“We were out of mulch last week,” joked Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough of Egg Harbor Township, adding that the public works supplies will now be overflowing with yard waste.
McCullough said the township’s public works department will try to collect as much as it can in a timely fashion, even if it overflows the municipality’s new 96-gallon trashcans.
“If people put out an extra can, we’ll try to oblige them,” he said. “Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s time to clean out the attic.”
About 37,000 customers were still without power in Atlantic County as businesses and residents tried to return to normalcy in advance of the July 4th holiday. Nearly 5,000 residents are without power in Cape May County; nearly 10,500 in Cumberland County and less than 100 in Ocean County.
Residents were advised to practice vigilance against heat-related illness and check on disabled or elderly neighbors. Although Tuesday was cooler than prior days, temperatures still reached into the low 90s.
Jeff Young, a 51-year-old Hammonton resident and county emergency management employee, said a steady stream of cars came through the line at Hamilton Mall for ice and water.
“It was mobbed this morning,” he said. “But everyone seems very appreciative.”
Employees from the Camden County Highway Department also joined in, as part of an emergency partnership between the counties. One Camden employee, Joe Romeo, 57, of Berlin, said they had been serving four cars at a time earlier in the day.
“I feel sorry for these people,” he said. “To stand in line two hours for battles of water and ice; you know they must need it.”
Conover said the mall distribution will continue today as long as supplies lasted. The county is also assessing the need for additional food centers and other services, he said.
“So far, people have been very patient and we’re thankful for that,” he said.
Conover said he expects the state to seek federal assistance to help pay for the costs associated with the storm. Residents can report damages to their municipal Office of Emergency Management, he said.
But things were starting to return to normal as July 4th loomed.
In Atlantic County, the hardest-hit area, many government services returned Tuesday. The Sheriff's Office and Prosecutor's Office opened in Mays Landing; home meal delivery service and senior nutrition sites resumed operations; and all but three library branches were open during normal hours. The Board of Chosen Freeholders relocated its meeting due to a continuing power outage at their usual chambers.
Georgette Burton, 64, was elated to hear electricity had returned to parts of Mays Landing. She had spent a lot of time at county libraries and restaurants, including the Mays Landing Diner, in the air conditioning.
“I’m ready to go to sleep and not wake up in a pool of sweat,” she said. “If I have power, I’ll sleep well tonight.”
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