Tropical Storm Isaias causes trouble in Union County

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

UNION COUNTY — Barreling through New Jersey early last week, Tropical Storm Isaias arrived in Union County with powerful winds, roaring thunder and drenching rain. The storm, which first made landfall as a hurricane, knocked over trees and tugged down power lines, causing power outages across the county.

PSEG spokesperson Lauren Ugorji gave an update on Union County’s power outages.
“As of today, Aug. 10, all power has been restored,” Ugorji said. “The last 24 customers within the county now have power. We’ve had a total of 575,000 customers (without power in New Jersey).”

According to an update not long after the storm hit, PSEG estimated that Tropical Storm Isaias was the fifth most severe storm in PSEG’s history and the second most severe, after Superstorm Sandy, in the past eight years. Crews were working 16-hour shifts and around the clock to restore power; while the utility expected to have power restored for at least 85 percent of customers without power by Aug. 10, they actually did even better, restoring power to 99 percent of customers with outages by Aug. 9.

Since the Aug. 4 storm, approximately 575,000, or 25 percent, of the 2.3 million electric customers in New Jersey reported a power outage or damage associated with Isaias. PSEG had nearly 3,300 of workers dedicated to restoration efforts, which included additional tree crews and line workers from 15 states and Canada, who were up to the challenge of getting everyone’s power back.

Even though Union County had power outage issues, the county as a whole wasn’t considered to be as hard hit as other counties, which may have suffered the brunt of the storm. According to the PSEG update, the hardest hit municipalities were Lawrenceville, Lumberton, Newark, Paramus, Roselle and Willingboro. In terms of restoration, PSEG took many factors into consideration, including road hazards and weather conditions.

According to an update on Aug. 6 from Roselle Mayor Rev. Reginald Atkins, the mayor spoke with PSEG and the governor’s office on the day of the storm, requesting that Roselle be given high priority because of the number of homes without power.

“Currently, Roselle has 1,650 PSE&G customers without power,” Atkins said in the Aug. 6 update. “The expected restoration date that I have been given has been slipping. At one point, we thought it would be today, but now they are giving us the global restoration date of Aug. 10. I have been told that they have crews coming to Roselle and have been in Roselle, and they are working diligently to restore our power.”

According to the update, even though everyone who lost power was in need, when restoring power, crews started with priority customers, including hospitals, emergency services such as police and fire stations, and power facilities. After priority customers were taken care of, PSEG moved on to the circuits serving the largest number of customers.

According to a storm update on Aug. 5 concerning Cranford, the town experienced widespread issues from Tropical Storm Isaias, with trees and wires down throughout the township, which resulted in closed roadways, power outages, and damage to private and public property. While Cranford was spared flooding, the storm still caused a number of emergencies, with Cranford police and fire personnel responding to more than 275 incidents the afternoon and evening of Aug. 4. According to that same update, the communications center fielded well over 1,000 resident phone calls during and following the storm.

“In terms of preparation leading up to it, the forecast called for more rain,” Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin said on Aug. 11. “Cranford lowered the two damns, raising the gates so to speak. Additionally, the county lowered the level of the pond at Nomahegan Park, along with two other ponds. Police Department and Fire Department added extra staff. The storm was mostly a wind event.

“Department of Public Works offered pickup of branches, and those efforts are still ongoing,” he continued. “Issues with PSEG consisted of 80 separate incidents of lost power, where there were daily calls addressing that. Everyone’s back online now, and I believe all power issues are restored.”

Giblin also mentioned the Orange Reservoir, which can serve a key role in preventing flooding from the Rahway River.

“The city of Orange worked with the Mayor’s Council on this,” Giblin said. “The Orange Reservoir had dry pipes due to not being used in 20 years. For this storm, they used it and lowered the level of the Orange Reservoir. It’s good to know that the reservoir is a solution or option for storms. It’s good to know that you can lower the reservoir if there’s a storm event by opening up the pipes. It all proved unnecessary because it was mostly a wind event, not a rain event. We mostly had power-related issues. Anytime people are out of power for five to six days, it can get frustrating.”

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead described the toll Tropical Storm Isaias took on Linden.

“There is always a certain level of frustration when residents are without power,” Armstead said on Aug. 11. “In this particular storm, we had more trees downed than Hurricane Sandy. Our police, fire, OEM and DPW worked tirelessly to remove trees that were downed. Despite our efforts, when it comes to power outages, we are at the mercy of the power companies. It’s like deja vu all over again.

“I think it’s time for municipalities to have a greater control with utility companies and what they are allowed to do in their towns,” he continued. “They need to examine the possibility of beginning to put these utilities underground. Until this happens, we will continue to relive the nightmare of downed power lines and outages.”

Hillside OEM coordinator Doug Ferrigno described what the township did to prepare for the storm.

“In preparation for the storm, Mayor Vertreese called a Zoom meeting with the heads of the Office of Emergency Management, Department of Public Works, Fire, Police and Health Department,” Ferrigno said Aug. 11. “We immediately secured our main evacuation centers, the Recreation Center and Senior Center. We also secured George Washington and AP schools as alternative sites.”

According to Ferrigno, Hillside made sure ambulances were prepared to be dispatched and stayed in contact with Union County OEM and the state police prior to and during the storm.

“The duration of the storm was approximately two hours, and heavy winds and rain caused damages to trees, wires, and the flow of traffic in our lowland areas,” Ferrigno said, explaining the efforts taken by the town after the storm. “DPW was deployed to remove downed trees when able; fallen trees on wires were dispatched to PSEG and or cable companies.”

According to Ferrigno, there were no human casualties. A home on Bellevue Terrace and one on Clark Street were severely damaged, and cars were damaged.

“The priority of our DPW currently is to remove all trees, branches, etc., and open streets that were closed,” he added.

According to Ferrigno, Haviland Drive and State Street remained closed as of Aug. 11. Trees were still down on wires, with tree removal crews waiting for PSEG to remove live wires. Homes were also damaged on State Street, Munn Avenue, Eastern Parkway and Virginia Street. The Department of Public Works continues to survey damage around town.

Photos Courtesy of PSEG