Tens of thousands of South Jersey residents spent their third straight day without electricity hauling debris from their storm-damaged homes.
The growing piles of tree limbs and brush were a sign of slow progress after a devastating windstorm that roared across South Jersey early Saturday, downing thousands of trees and power lines.
But as the cleanup continues, the question is where all of that debris will end up and how long the cleanup will take.
Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management Director Vince Jones said early Monday that authorities were still focused on “life-saving needs,” including providing water, shelter and ice to those who have no electricity. Many who rely on wells for water found they could not get any without a generator.
“We gotta take care of all the people, and that’s our focus,” Jones said. “We’re going to do that until every last house is back to normal.”
When normalcy will return is anyone’s guess. Atlantic City Electric still had 79,743 people without power as of 8 p.m. That figure dropped to less than 70,000 overnight.
The utility says it still expects most customers to have power restored by Wednesday, but some won’t get their electricity back until Saturday. Even after the power returns, many residents have to figure out how to clean up their yards and, in some cases, repair damage.
In many neighborhoods, some of the downed brush and debris strewn across yards immediately after the storm had been hauled to the curb. The Atlantic County Utilities Authority announced Monday that it would remain open until 8 p.m. for residents to drop off yard waste and would be open between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday, the July Fourth holiday, to help with the recovery. Municipalities that handle yard-waste removal were still struggling to figure out when that effort would begin.
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said the city decided to delay trash or other services or even set up a separate yard-waste schedule, but no decision has been made. Glasser said Public Works crews were out an hour after the storm and have been picking up debris ever since. He encourages residents to place the debris on their curbs and hopes crews will get to it soon.
“I couldn’t believe how bad Somers Point was,” he said. “We took a lot from Mother Nature. We’re doing our best to clean it up.”
For Marilyn and George Ulrich, who live on Violet Drive in Somers Point, the cleanup still hinges on how soon an arborist calls her back to schedule a time to remove the 75-year-old maple that is lying on the back of their house.
“We’ve called two (tree-removal contractors) but we haven’t heard back from them, of course,” Marilyn Ulrich said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take. The longer this sits there, I just don’t want it to end up in my dining room. But thank God we’re OK, and that’s the main thing.”
Bargaintown Road in Egg Harbor Township was mostly passable, but in some spots large trees still were ensnared in dead power lines precariously perched over the road. In other parts of the region, large trees rested on houses or cars, some trees blocked half the road and many sidewalks and in some neighborhoods, dozens of large paper bags filled with yard waste and neatly stacked wood sat along curbs.
Hamilton Township Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Mattle said the municipality was still in the response stages, but he estimates the damage there could be about $10 million. The municipal building has limited power, but most Public Works employees have worked through the weekend trying to clear roads and free electrical wires from trees so they can be repaired, he said. The township’s rescue squad has also had a number of calls — many of the people with respiration problems.
Mayor Roger Silva said the township had yet to determine when yard-waste removal could be scheduled, but he added it would be a big expense. He asked residents to be patient and said the township hoped to do it all at once to cut down on costs.
“Yard waste in not our main concern right now,” he said. “We’re dealing with public safety stuff.”
Galloway Township Mayor Don Purdy said almost all of the roads were passable by Monday morning except for a few trees that were tangled with power lines. Purdy said he went out and moved several trees over the weekend to clear roadways.
Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo said he had talked with ACUA officials about the cleanup, and the crews should be out every day picking up waste. Mazzeo said if possible, people should cut down large items, but the authority will have equipment to do so. He said the authority might start with the smaller pickups and handle the larger items later on.
Almost all of the streets are now open except for a few where trees are tangled up with wires, he said.
“We were lucky as a community as a while there were no deaths or injuries that we know of,” he said. “In a week, hopefully, everything will be back to normal.”
The work also comes as the state attorney general issued a warning to area businesses reminding them of the rules regarding price gouging. No substantiated reports of price gouging had been released.
A demolition crew began tearing down the burned-out shell of Longport’s Church of the Redeemer on Monday. Either a downed wire or lightning strike sparked a fire that engulfed the 104-year-old landmark during Saturday’s early-morning storm.
Tom Subranni, chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said crews tore down the tower Monday and started on sections of the church itself. The process will take about a week, he said.
As the crews worked, he said, church officials have tried to save artifacts and hardware to use in the new church.
“We’re trying to save anything we can find, like cast-iron strappings from the timbers and light fixtures,” he said. “We want anything the least bit salvageable that can be preserved and incorporated into the new church as a reminder of the church we lost.”
The communion silver, several crosses and the church’s signature red doors have already been saved. Subranni said the organ pipe chamber may be salvageable if the crew can safely extract them.
“It’s killing us,” said borough historian Michael Cohen. “Seeing it come down doesn’t make any difference at this stage of the game — it’s already destroyed. It’s already gone.”
Staff writers Wallace McKelvey and David Simpson contributed to this report.
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