Sandy deals ‘devastating blow’

Preliminary private, public losses in Union County breach $1 billion

File Photo
In Rahway, the front of a house is destroyed following the destruction from Superstorm Sandy. The initial estimate of monetary losses for Union County comes in at more than $1 billion.

In both private and public losses combined, Superstorm Sandy cost Union County more than $1 billion. The good news is FEMA is supposed to help defray the majority of the costs incurred by municipalities, but not all.

The preliminary tolls from each town are now in and the total spent by Union County municipalities for storm related costs came in at $44.4 million

But in the private sector,  losses came in close to a billion dollars, with unofficial damages reaching $978.7 million. Linden topped the list with $900 million in private sector damages. The private sector is subject to far more regulations regarding FEMA aid, and an estimate of the amount to be covered by the federal agency is not available.

Linden’s Tremley Point area, hit hard by a 13-foot storm surge from nearby Arthur Kill, not only left 15 homes uninhabitable but major companies such as Phillips 66, New Star, and Cogen with such major flood and wind damage that they had to shut down. Several remain closed some three weeks after the storm hit.

Mayor Rich Gerbounka said the storm swell damage was a “devastating blow,”  but felt certain the city would recover.

“We have to look at the fact that we had no deaths related to the storm and that FEMA will help cut some of the costs incurred by our residents and businesses,” the mayor said, adding that a FEMA office is expected to open in the city soon.

Linden, while incurring monumental private sector damages, spent $3.9 million to keep the city safe and mobilized during and after the storm.

Rahway came in the highest on the list of money spent by towns, with a preliminary figure set at $15 million. Private sector damages were assessed at $20 million, but officials expected this number to rise.

Mayor Rick Proctor was subdued while discussing the extent of damage.

“We sustained damage to the roof of the library. The Rec. Center was flooded. The storm surge topped the levy on Monday night, “ he said. “There were at 84 trees that fell on houses. We had to hire cranes. Many of the trees that did fall broke up the curbing and the pavement.”

Proctor declined to discuss exactly how such a high damage assessment might affect next year’s budget, but did note the cost of the storm was not a short-term problem.

“We are hoping we get a lot of reimbursement, but that’s a long-term thing. We are still getting money for Irene. The level of damage has a lot to do with sustaining a lot of flood damage, in addition to the wind damage that most of the other municipalities suffered.”

Meanwhile, in Union an estimated $1 million was spent to keep personnel on the streets during the storm and after, while private sector damages came in at more than $10 million.

Although Cranford did not experience any flooding with Sandy, the township did spend $798,000 in overtime and other  costs connected with the storm. Private sector damages were reported at $5.2 million.

Although Summit had significant power outages — some that continued long after other towns saw power returned — the city spent $760,000 in storm related costs, while the private sector saw damages of $655,000.

Springfield, according to figures submitted to the county, spent $256,000 in added costs while private sector damages reached $1 million.

Elizabeth had to spend $13.9 million in additional municipal expenses while private business and homeowners sustained $2.1 million in damages.

In Clark, officials submitted some of the lowest costs on the municipal end, with an estimated$350,000 spent while residents and business owners had losses close to $1 million.

At the county level, the Office of Emergency Management noted police had $175,000 in additional costs, including overtime, because of the storm. The county parks division came in with $1.4 million in additional costs.

Department of Public Safety Director Andrew Moran and Division of Emergency Management Director Chris Scaturo explained last week that each municipality filed their preliminary damage figures for the public and private sector, but they will individually file with FEMA for financial relief.

“Usually FEMA will guarantee 75 percent of the amount spent by each town and the county,” said Scaturo, adding that the county and towns are responsible for the remaining 25 percent.

“FEMA assigns a rate for vehicle use, generators and other storm-related expenses,” he explained, pointing out that this is how it worked with Tropical Storm Irene.

“Towns and the county were reimbursed, even though it took awhile,” Scaturo said.

“Irene was an extreme case because it involved heavy flooding but the process to get FEMA money is a long one. In fact we are still receiving money back,” Scaturo added.

Moran said the storm took its toll on the county, but that by working closely with the county, municipalities were able to obtain needed items to keep traffic signals going as well as obtaining much needed gasoline and diesel fuel from the county.

“We were getting urgent pleas from municipalities for gas,” Moran said, explaining that thanks to a proactive move to purchase manual pumps using grant funding, local towns were able to keep municipal vehicles up and running.

“The power loss made things very difficult but those manual pumps sure came in handy,” he added.

Both Moran and Scaturo agreed that because the National Weather Service was “spot on” with forecasting the storm, both the county and towns were able to prepare ahead of time for what lay ahead.

“We had all our personnel in and ready to go,” Moran added, noting that the Medical Reserve Corps played an important role during and after the storm.

The director explained the Medical corps is comprised of volunteer doctors, nurses and other health professionals who give their time to help during an emergency.

“Manning this storm was a 24-hour job but everyone rose to the occasion and went beyond the call of duty,” Scaturo added.