Dispatch | As Problems Mount, Mendham Residents Come Together

Friday, November 02, 2012

Five days after Sandy blew through New Jersey roughly 714,000 of 1.1 million of Jersey Central Power and Light customers remain in the dark.

Before Sandy hit Governor Chris Christie said utility executives predicted Sandy would knock out power for seven to ten days. State officials had told people to "hunker down" and have three days of food and water on hand. FEMA is expected in town some time Friday afternoon to inspect the 40 homes that sustained substantial storm damage.

But the prolonged outage, combined with an acute gasoline shortage and a lack of commercially available food, has created hardship for hundreds of thousands, in particular the elderly and chronically ill who live alone.

Water has been one concern for municipal officials. They say roughly half of the community relies on private wells, which depend on electric power.

But some communities were prepared better than others to offer residents a place to go for the basics.

In Mendham a recently completed Firehouse and first aid squad headquarters became a home away from home for hundreds of people from the town and its surrounding communities. The recently completed 11,000 square foot building has a second floor that can double as a community center. It has showers and a commercial grade kitchen. On Friday, an impromptu band of volunteers fed 400, up from 150 the day after Sandy hit.

The building's prime movers say they never expected how much it would be used by the community seeking sanctuary and the basics in the aftermath of long term power outages.

"This place has been used three times for this purpose since last August,"  OEM Director Evan Thomas said. Only about 10 percent of Mendham’s power has been restored.

Mendham Township resident Linda Posunko, 69, lives alone and says having the firehouse to come to made the blackout survivable. She says money is tight but she gave the volunteers $100 dollars. "I love these guys. They are my guardian angels."

Local critics complained the $4 million center was overly ambitious.  In the aftermath of Sandy, no one was saying that.

On Friday, the second floor was packed with an inter-generational mix of people grateful for the building's heat, light and wall sockets.

Outside, Fire Chief Jay Alderton was supervising a crew of volunteer firefighters who were de-contaminating Engine 3, which they took down to Toms River, a shore community that was devastated by Sandy and needed additional first responders. The engine was deployed for two days and drove through floodwaters subject to a wide array of potential contamination, Alderton said.

"What we saw is indescribable. The media can't get where we were," a clearly moved Alderton said. "The hardest thing to see was people with nothing asking us questions we could not answer."

Utility trucks from California are coming in to help JCL&P out, according to Thomas. The utility’s coverage area includes the hardest hit parts of the Jersey shore,  much of New Jersey's suburban and rural Highlands and central Jersey. 

The utility had come under intense criticism from state regulators for their performance in the aftermath of Irene and last year's Halloween blizzard.

The utility says it pre-deployed crews to reduce the lag time for restoration.

Under existing state law utilities can only be fined $100 day for failure to perform as required by state regulations. Governor Christie has pending legislation to raise that fine to $25,000 a day.


Comments [3]

Lk Pettine from Mendham township

More Mendham Twp observations - Twelve days without power. My family are the lucky ones among our neighbors - we have a generator-gas & water - our house is standing & we have our health - and I know there's no room to complain, relatively speaking. BUT when your township administrator urges you & all the residents on his emergency contact list to call the governor's office - why? because jcp&l is missing streets/residences - They are compiling a list to give to the utilities bureau. Jcp&l are sending a skeleton crew of outofstate workers who do not know anything about the area (some have never worked in snow before!)...until we invest in infrastructure and bury the lines I figure to treat this region as of I'm living in a rural Scottish coast town that gets spotty electric at best.

Nov. 09 2012 10:52 PM
Barbara Price from Basking Ridge

According to the Asplundh tree crew I spoke with, JCP&L has plenty of boots on the ground but their central command is highly disorganized and overly bureaucratic. For example, four separate tree crews have been on my block over the past five days inspecting downed utility pole and wires. But no work has been accomplished because, according to these crews, JCP&L is not sending line crews and tree crews to work in tandem or any systematic manner. I don't mind waiting for power to be restored if they are working on hospitals or emergency services. But it is infuriating to know that we are cold and dark, with no relief in sight, because of incompetence. Bob, I hope you will investigate and report on this. Thanks for all your great work this week!

Nov. 04 2012 03:35 PM
George Muha from Brookside, NJ

Bob, thanks for coming by the shelter today! This building has been a huge help for our family to weather this storm! Thank you for the reporting and taking a nice photo of my wife!

Kind regards, George Muha

Nov. 02 2012 06:47 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.