On Sunday, Oct. 28, some 17 Morristown residents completed their training as volunteers for the town’s Community Emergency Response Team.
When Super Storm Sandy struck the next day, it “was their final exam,” Police Capt. Steve Sarinelli told the town council on Tuesday.
Thanks in large measure to lessons learned from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, Morristown emergency responders earned high marks during Sandy and its aftermath, according to a report compiled by the police captain that includes a public works estimate of $640,000 in damages.
That’s on top of an emergency appropriation of $422,800 approved Tuesday by the council for overtime and other storm-related costs. The town hopes to recoup 75 percent of these expenditures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Going forward, the challenge for town employees and volunteers will be ensuring that all residents take storms as seriously as they do, Police Chief Pete Demnitz wrote in the report.
“It is quite apparent that ’100-year storms’ are going to be impacting our area much more frequently…To that end we must make our best efforts through education and awareness to ensure that the residents and business owners of the Town plan as diligently as we have been doing,” the Chief wrote.
While police spent “several days working grueling tours under unpleasant conditions,” they encountered major frustrations helping those who “appeared to have done little planning for loss of power despite being warned for days that loss of power for seven to 10 days was highly probable.”
About 80 percent of Morristown household lost power initially; some residents lacked electricity for two weeks. While stories abounded of neighbors helping neighbors–local churches served free meals and town hall welcomed people to the seniors center around the clock–vigilance always is necessary, cautioned the Chief.
He noted the “disturbing” situation of a blind woman that nobody checked on for four days. A Facebook friend from California contacted police when she had not heard from the blind woman after the storm hit.
Although Morristown experienced no serious injuries, there were close calls when people ignored warnings and took risks to stay warm.
Firefighters responded to 19 incidents of elevated carbon dioxide levels–presumably from misuse of generators and stoves–and at least one child was taken to the hospital for observation after a stove was used for heating.
Additionally, 17 trees crashed into structures, according to Acting Fire Chief Robert Flanagan. Some 27 trees toppled in roadways, bringing wires down. In all, wires fell in 46 places. The fire department and ambulance squad responded to 139 storm-related calls, he said, and firefighters earned $23,350 in overtime.
Capt. Sarinelli’s report details beefed-up communications measures that included Facebook postings and several door-to-door forays by town employees. Preparations were exhaustive, the report asserts. Public works officials, for example, lowered Lake Pocahontas and Speedwell Lake ahead of the storm, to avert flooding along the Whippany River.
The public works department, which racked up $50,000 in overtime, had to deal with 24 closed roads on the night Sandy hit. Town Engineer Jeff Hartke’s estimate of $640,000 in damage includes an extra $266,000 to dispose of sludge; that’s because Sandy knocked out a disposal treatment center in Newark.
Generator expenses added up to $100,000, while town parks, playgrounds and fences will take $70,000 to mend, by Jeff’s reckoning.
The police report also cites efforts by volunteers such as Norman Nutt and Norman Nutt Jr., who were among volunteer firefighters who manned a public warming station at the firehouse for nine straight days.
“There is not enough time for me to thank everyone involved,” Mayor Tim Dougherty said after Capt. Sarinelli’s presentation. “The combined effort of residents and town workers…was incredible.”
The Mayor, who convened a meeting with other mayors last month to compare notes on Sandy, is withholding judgment on Jersey Central Power & Light’s performance in deference to Shore towns still suffering from the storm.
About 40 Morristown residents were referred to an emergency shelter at Mennen Arena in Morris Township in the nights after Sandy. Next time, Morristown officials will work with the Red Cross to open a shelter in town, Capt. Sarinelli said.
Meanwhile, the town will continue recruiting volunteers for the Community Emergency Response Team. An open house is scheduled for Jan. 10 at town hall.
Even residents who are not keen on joining CERT should attend the 7 pm meeting, the Mayor said, to learn safety tips.