Is town ready for another Hurricane Irene?
As anniversary nears, new emergency plans
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Aug 12, 2012 | 2622 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
VIEW FROM ABOVE – An Expedition 28 crew member aboard the International Space Station captured this image of Hurricane Irene off the east coast of the United States on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, around 4:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. GMT). Photo Credit: NASA
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Nearly a year after Hurricane Irene swept through Secaucus, flooding continues to be a concern to residents, especially since the town is situated in a low-lying area bordered by a river, wetlands, and marsh. The municipality is improving flood-prone areas by installing new drainage storm lines, and agencies like the local Office of Emergency Management (OEM) are ready in case a hurricane strikes again.

Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a Tropical Storm before it made landfall in southeastern New Jersey on Aug. 28 and worked its way up the state, causing massive flooding and power outages.

In Secaucus, several residents living by the Hackensack River had to be rescued by boat. Parts of nearby Jersey City and Hoboken were evacuated by their mayors.

Storm sweeps through Secaucus

In Secaucus, the Hackensack River overflowed. Power went out across town for hours, trees were uprooted and downed by intense winds, and heavy rains inundated the low-lying streets.

Many residents suffered damage to their property and homes – some had up to seven feet of water in their basements.

Fire Chief George Schoenrock was called to help people stranded on Farm Road, Tenth Street, Meadowlands Parkway, and New County Road Extension.

“They were stuck in their cars,” said Schoenrock. He said one gentleman who worked as a trucker had water up to the windows on his car on New County Road Extension. “He was standing on the roof of his car, believe it or not.”

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“It is urgent to have the main Emergency Operations Center ready to go to ensure business is operating as normal as possible.” – Vincent Massaro, Sr.

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Union City couple Nelson Hango and Angela Giovanni gave birth to their first child, daughter Audrina, at Meadowlands Hospital that Sunday. After the couple desperately tried to traverse flooded roads throughout Secaucus, a Hudson County Sheriff’s SWAT vehicle was called to take the couple across Meadowlands Parkway, which was flooded with water from an overflowing Hackensack River and was not accessible by car or ambulance. The couple arrived at the hospital at 1:05 p.m. and the baby was born at 2:05 p.m.

Meadowlands Hospital chose to stay open during the hurricane and had a mobile triage unit at one of the shelters. Electricity went out from two different energy sources but the hospital had back-up generators, enough to power the hospital for seven days.

Mill Ridge Road became a river unto itself at high tide. Guy Pascarello’s home on that street was one of the most severely damaged and deemed unsuitable for living.

“This is the worst we’ve seen,” said Zilpa Rizzo at the time, a resident of eight years who lives next to the Mill Creek Marsh. Her family was rescued by boat and taken to a relative’s house.

Mayor Michael Gonnelli’s home was also among those damaged on Mill Ridge Road.

“It hasn’t been this bad since 1992. And ’92 wasn’t as bad as this one,” said Gonnelli at the time.

Water surrounded cars in the middle of Farm Road. Secaucus Road and the Meadowlands Parkway were closed due to massive flooding. Tenth Street at Acorn, Grace Avenue, and Hagan Place also experienced flooding and Harmon Cove residents went without power for an extended period of time after power went back on in the rest of Secaucus around noon on Sunday. The Department of Public Works pumped water out of 40 homes that had experienced significant flooding.

Shortly after the storm hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up an office in town at the local library to offer assistance and funding to help Hudson County residents to help pay for damages.

Notifying residents, and where to go during storm

“Rest assured Secaucus has an emergency preparedness plan in place for these types of catastrophic weather conditions,” said Gonnelli in a written statement this year.

Last year, residents received sandbags, flashlights were handed out to seniors, and the OEM delivered flyers to people throughout town with storm preparation information. OEM knocked on doors of residents in low-lying areas and issued some evacuations.

Since then, the municipality has set up a Reverse 911-type phone service, which is normally used to transmit non-emergency information to residents but will be used to alert the public of an emergency situation. In addition, emergency information would be broadcast on Channel 36 as well as the town website www.Secaucusnj.org.

Last year, the city and several agencies, as well as the local hospital, set up a shelter triage unit at Huber Street School. Seventeen people showed up at the shelter on foot, 27 received medical treatment, and three people in critical condition were stabilized before being transported to Meadowlands Hospital. Secaucus had the only triage unit in Hudson County, according to the OEM.

That same mobile medical triage unit is available at any given moment should severe flooding and power outages hit the area.

Huber Street School has been selected again to house cots, generators, and other medical equipment due to its central location in town and its altitude above sea level.

Prior to any major, impending storm, the OEM meets with the Local Emergency Plan Committee, which includes representatives of local agencies.

Vincent Massaro, Sr., coordinator for the OEM, said, “It is urgent to have the main Emergency Operations Center ready to go to ensure business is operating as normal as possible.”

Vincent Massaro Jr., deputy coordinator, said residents should keep a moderate supply of non- perishable food and water, flashlights and batteries for up to 72 hours.

Addressing flooding

The municipality has set aside over $500,000 for flood control projects.

According to a statement issued by the mayor, a new larger storm water line is being designed and will be constructed shortly on Golden Avenue.

A new storm drainage line has already been installed behind the homes on Humboldt Street and Golden Avenue. Two projects are also underway in the second ward. The earthen berm on Mill Ridge Road has been totally reconstructed, and a large diameter storm line and pump station is being constructed to alleviate flooding on Farm, Oak and Acorn Roads. Town engineers are also in the process of investigating and designing a new storm water system that would service the west side of Paterson Plank Road.

The county has agreed and already begun rebuilding the St. Paul Avenue pump station, which has been antiquated for many years. The $450,000 project will alleviate flooding on Secaucus Road and areas of the South End. The municipality is also working closely with state legislators to find funding to help alleviate flooding in the center of town, which is subject to severe tidal floods.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

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