VINELAND — Resident Guy Greico sat in the coolness of a Red Cross shelter on Monday, grateful for a place to live and even more grateful to be alive.
The violent storm that blew through Cumberland County on Saturday twisted his home at the Vineland Hills mobile home court on its foundation.
But the 58-year-old Greico said he’s lucky: Other mobile homes at the North East Boulevard facility were smashed and destroyed by falling trees and branches.
“Most of the trees are gone,” Greico said as he sat in the shelter at the Thomas Wallace Middle School on North Mill Road.
“It’s a miracle no one was killed,” said Vineland Mayor Robert Romano.
Now, Cumberland County is trying to recover from a storm that damaged buildings, blocked roads with fallen trees, snapped utility poles and left some public parks in shambles. As many as 20,000 homes were still without electricity on Monday.
There are as yet no damage estimates. Romano said Vineland, which appears to have been the hardest-hit municipality in Cumberland County, faces tremendous expenses for cleanup, repairs and overtime for public works and Police Department staff.
“We’re just paying what we have to pay to get the job done,” Romano said.
States of emergency declarations issued by Vineland and Cumberland County government on Saturday remain in effect.
Cumberland County spokesman Troy Ferus said the county declared the emergency so it could more easily buy materials necessary to help with the storm cleanup. The declaration also streamlined the method by which the county could hire vendors, he said. The county issued no curfew or driving restrictions, he said.
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said his city suspended enforcement of curbside brush and tree-limb pickup for the next six weeks.
“It’s gong to take a while for things to get back to normal,” Kelly said. “If residents can get it to curbside, out public works crews will get it picked up. I only ask residents to be patient, as cleanup will take time.”
Meanwhile, Atlantic City Electric’s web site reported Monday that more than 16,500 of its almost 40,000 Cumberland County customers were without power.
Vineland Municipal Utilities Director Joseph Isabella said about 5,000 Vineland Municipal Electric Utility customers were still without power. Some of those customers may not get power restored for a few days as crews are having difficulty working through downed trees and other debris, he said. Work crews from other electric companies are arriving in the city to help restore power, he said.
“This is the worst storm damage I’ve seen in my (41-year) career,” Isabella said, adding that about 18,000 of the utility’s almost 25,000 customers lost power in the first few minutes of the storm.
The damage is still evident, including:
- Portions of 11 county roads, including one that links the western half of Cumberland County with its only hospital in Vineland, are closed.
- Landis Park in Vineland looking like what Romano called a “war zone.” Oak trees as old as 125 years snapped or were uprooted. Branches and leaves cover monuments and crosses left to honor veterans.
- Sections of Jesse Bridge Road in Deerfield Township near the county landfill partially blocked by fallen trees. Other trees are leaning across the road, resting on drooping utility lines.
- The shoulders of a portion of Smith Road in Millville are lined with trees and branches that were moved into place by residents using small front-end loaders over the weekend. The air in that area smells of pine from the pine trees that snapped, fell or were cut.
- At least 35 utility poles in Vineland are snapped or damaged.
Power remains out for some traffic signals. Ferus said the county dipped into its reserve of stop signs and created four-way traffic stops at some of those intersections.
County officials estimated that more than 300 people used the Red Cross shelter at the Thomas Wallace Middle School since it opened on Saturday. Shelter manager Carl Lillvik said the facility is providing people who have no electricity at their homes with a place to be cool, sleep and get some food, even if it’s only a sandwich and fruit.
Most of the people stopping at the shelter are elderly, Lillvik said. Some people who were at the shelter all weekend left Monday morning for their jobs, and intend to return once they finish working for the day, he said.
At Vineland Ice & Storage on East Pear Street, owner Mark DiMeo said he has lost track of the number of 50-pound bags of ice his business has sold. He estimates he has sold enough ice to fill several tractor-trailers.
DiMeo said he’s selling the bags of ice for $9 — the same price he’s charged for the past two years.
Despite the difficulties, Cumberland County officials said there were numerous instances of residents and merchants helping their neighbors.
For instance, Stanley Liquors in Bridgeton and Cumberland Dairy in Deerfield Township gave out ice to people whose homes lost power. Upper Deerfield Township public works crews and volunteer firefighters not only cleared trees and debris, but delivered ice to residents in need.
“Area residents weren’t complaining,” Cumberland County Freeholder Director Carl Kirstein said. “They were out checking on their neighbors to see if they needed anything. They were asking one another if they could help clean up their yard or help them clear their driveway.
“It was an inspiring sight to see. Even with all the debris that was around them, the residents were still very positive and continued to help one another.”
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