Storm’s Impact Still Lingers

By Chris Neidenberg

It wasn’t a trick and certainly no treat for many Belleville residents living on Branch Brook Dr. and Carpenter St., who were stuck without power for several days after the recent pre-Halloween snowstorm.
The township reported that many dwellings were still left powerless from the freak and blistering storm, which downed countless trees and power lines throughout North Jersey.
According to a spokesperson for Emergency Management Coordinator and police Capt. Victor Mesce, residents with  addresses in the lower address numbers  on Carpenter St. were still shut down through early Friday afternoon. She added that some Branch Brook Dr. residents had no current through part of Thursday.
“The power lost on Carpenter St. included some apartments,” said the spokesperson who had conferred with Mesce and requested anonymity.  “PSE&G has told us those properties would be restored by today.”
The spokesperson said that Thursday’s lingering Branch Brook Dr. outage primarily affected Audubon Pl. apartment complex tenants.
“My understanding is that everything (in the complex) is restored now,  Audubon’s property manager told The Observer on Friday.”
The storm formed quickly and caught states along the eastern seaboard, from North Carolina northward, off-guard as it churned up severe wind gusts and blankets of snow more commonly seen in these parts in January and February.
For the New York City area, it was the earliest major snowstorm on record since the Civil War.
PSE&G reported that at least 560,000 Garden State customers lost power from the storm, and an estimated 70 percent of them had electricity back up by Halloween morning. The utility was helped by a group of 91 local independent contractor crews, along with 60 crews from power companies in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
The two Belleville areas comprised a portion of the remaining group that experienced prolonged outages, due to various complicating factors.
About 8,000 customers were still without power in parts of Bergen and Essex counties,  utility spokeswoman Rene Esposito said Friday afternoon,  though she couldn’t provide The Observer a breakdown by municipality.
There were virtually no power outages remaining in Hudson County, she added.
Esposito claimed the utility met Gov. Chris Christie›s target to restore 99 percent  of lost power by Friday, leaving the Carpenter properties in the remaining – and unlucky – one percent.
We were able to reach officials in East Newark, Harrison and Lyndhurst on Friday, East Newark Police Chief Kenneth Sheehan said.  Absolutely no problems  were lingering in his small borough from the storm.
“We didn›t have any prolonged power outages,”  Lyndhurst Deputy Chief John Valente said.  “Everything was back up and running pretty quickly. DPW crews are still removing trees, and tree branches, lost from the storm.”
A spokesperson consulting with Harrison Town Clerk Paul Zarbetski added,  “Just a lot of branches and tree limbs still to pick up.”
Belleville, and many other area municipalities were also still coping with brush removal, as trees, limbs, and branches were strewn on properties – or awaiting disposal at the curb – six days after the storm’s fury.
At the sprawling Audubon complex – a mass of numerous two-bedroom units surrounded by green space – a female tenant explained she and some others were lucky to maintain full power throughout the crisis.
“Across the way from me on Branch Brook Dr., there were people who indeed lost electricity for days,”  the tenant said, requesting anonymity.
“It literally depended on what row your unit was in,”  she explained.  “And you can see parking lots virtually empty throughout the outage, a sign many tenants made temporary alternate living arrangements.”
The resident said that she personally knew a woman who had moved with her children into her mother’s house, to ride out the blackout.
She said that she felt fortunate to face  only minor inconveniences.
“Because my boiler was in part of the complex which lost power for days, I had no heat or hot water,” she pointed out. “I couldn’t wash my hair or take showers. I didn’t have any heat, but that was OK because I don’t like the heat.”
In addition, the woman said that she lost Comcast cable service and her landline phone due to the cable giant’s own problems with the storm tracing to a remote transmission source. This forced her to temporarily rely only on a cell phone, and watch broadcast channels for an extended period.
The tenant noted that she had heard some people without current expressing annoyance with PSE&G because the utility allegedly kept telling them they’d get power back by a certain date – only to encounter more delays.
It would have made more sense if the utility had provided a general time frame — say, by the end of the week — for when power would be restored, the woman said.
The tenant speculated that the major delays affecting Audubon stemmed from a heavy volume of downed wires, eclipsed by weakened snow-covered limbs falling from older trees scattered throughout the complex.
“I had felt the town and apartment management should have chopped many of these dying trees down well before the storm hit,” she insisted.
Esposito explained that while high winds were one factor, much of the downed wires resulted from branches weakened by significant volumes of snow,  combined with the added weight of leaves.
She noted that many properties falling within the remaining 30 percent of buildings encountering extended delays were serviced by a large number of individual power lines.
Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G president and chief operating officer, explained in a statement: “While we work to restore power to the greatest number of customers first, we still have a large number of individual service lines that go from the pole to customers› homes and businesses that are damaged as a result of falling tree limbs. The volume of these individual service lines presents a challenge to full restoration.”
Thus, Larossa says, “the utility prioritizes restoration by first addressing businesses and residences whose circuits service larger populations, along with institutional customers  providing urgently needed public services. Included in the latter group are police and fire stations, hospitals, schools, sewage-treatment facilities and TV, radio, and phone transmission outlets.”
We could not reach officials in Bloomfield, Kearny, North Arlington or Nutley by deadline. Kearny municipal civilian offices, excluding police, were closed Friday by a furlough day and a police spokesman could not be reached. Messages left with Nutley Deputy Fire Chief Paul Cafone, North Arlington Borough Administrator Terence Wall and Police Chief Louis Ghione were not returned. Bloomfield Township Administrator Yoshi Manale was unavailable for comment.

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