With power restoration winding down, local, state and federal officials have started to survey the storm damage, visiting municipalities in Atlantic and Cumberland counties with lists of addresses of properties that were heavily damaged.
The process, which started Thursday and continued Friday, might lead to President Barack Obama declaring the region a federal disaster area as a result of a storm that left more than 200,000 homes and businesses without power in South Jersey on June 30.
Such a declaration would allow municipalities to seek reimbursement for money spent cleaning up from the storm — and possibly for individual assistance if there is enough damage.
“This is the first step in the process,” State Police Lt. Jeff Mottley said of this week’s preliminary damage assessments.
The next step will be to make a recommendation to the Governor’s Office to request that the federal government declare a federal disaster area. Depending on the type of disaster declaration that is issued, residents might be able to apply for financial assistance for storm-damage repairs, Mottley said.
On Friday, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited Vineland. On Thursday, officials from the agency stopped in Linwood, Mayor Richard De Pamphilis III said.
In Northfield, FEMA visited Thursday and Friday, touring the city with police Chief Robert James and other officials. Mayor Vince Mazzeo said damage estimates were already in the millions but that it would be some time before more specific estimates are available.
“We’re still assessing the damage at this point,” Mazzeo said, adding most of the damage to city property happened at Birch Grove Park. “FEMA was in town yesterday and today assessing the damage. I don’t know where it will end up, but it is pretty substantial. I have never seen anything like this in Northfield, and I’ve been here all my life.”
In Absecon, local officials took a tour of their own Friday prior to FEMA’s arrival, stopping at houses such as one on the 500 block of New Jersey Avenue that was covered by a large tree that fell. Officials said they toured about 70 sites in the past day or so, which confirmed some of what they believed.
“The strongest part of the storm was over Absecon,” said James Eberwine, who heads the city’s Office of Emergency Management and has a background in meteorology. “Absecon was the bull’s-eye, as far as I can tell.”
Eberwine said one resident who had instruments to measure wind speeds clocked them at 74 mph in the city.
The resulting damage has left many awestruck, including Absecon police Lt. John DeRitis, who has lived in the area for 43 years, many of them also spent volunteering for the fire department.
“Never have I seen this destruction,” he said.
Staff Writers Rob Spahr and Thomas Barlas contributed to this report.
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