Now we pray for normalcy

Photos courtesy Michael Nicosia
Sandy left its mark on the former Dutch Reformed Church in Belleville. Inset: Wind gusts left cross at top of steeple dangerously dangling.

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


The spiritual leader of a local church with a long legacy in Belleville is appealing to the community at large for help in restoring its storm-ravaged property.

The Rev. Miguel Ortiz, pastor of Iglesia Pentecostal LaSenda Antigua (formerly the Dutch Reformed church and its cemetery containing graves of Revolutionary War veterans), said that Hurricane Sandy left sections of the church structure at Rutgers and Main sts. crippled.

When the storm hit Monday, Oct. 29, it flooded the church basement with eight feet of water and its high winds battered the steeple roof and left a large bronze cross teetering dangerously, Ortiz said.

In fact, as explained by Dep. Mayor/ Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli, “the whole steeple was actually leaning.”

As a safety precaution, police detoured vehicular traffic bound to and from the Passaic River bridge linking Belleville and North Arlington away from the church.

Ortiz said that township engineers came to the site to inspect the damaged roof and arranged to engage, on an emergency basis, a local roofing contractor, Integrated Construction Enterprises, to handle repairs.

As of now, the structure has been “shored up with bracing,” according to Cozzarelli, as a temporary fix, and, as of this past Friday, police removed the traffic barricades at the bridge.

Photo courtesy Michael Nicosia
Hurricane Sandy caused major flooding, including this Belleville throughway .


Ortiz said it will probably cost in excess of $40,000 to remove sections of the steeple – and possibly the heavy bell from the steeple – plus an additional $20,000 to do the repairs needed.

And that’s money that his impoverished church simply doesn’t have, according to the pastor.

“We’re still paying off the mortgage on the church,” Ortiz said. “We paid $15,000 for a new boiler that was installed in the basement and now that’s no good because of the flooding.”

Ortiz said he investigated getting a bailout from Federal Emergency Management Agency but he said he was told by a FEMA representative that, “it doesn’t deal with churches.”

So, as a last resort, Ortiz said the church is making an appeal to the public for donations.

“We could use all the help we can get,” he said.

Ortiz said the church has yet to set up a fundraising account at an area bank and he said he’ll be researching ways of doing that.

Ortiz said he’s hopeful the appeal will draw sympathy from the Belleville community – and beyond – “because the church is historical for the state of New Jersey,” with its Dutch roots in the region stretching back at least to the early 1700s.

Cozzarelli said the church is on state and federal historic registers but the township hasn’t yet created a legal procedure for declaring it a landmark structure.

Meanwhile, until the church can settle its bill with the contractor, the township will be putting a lien on the property for the cost of the repair work, according to Township Manager Kevin Esposito.

Since the church was placed off limits to regular worshipers, Ortiz said that members of the congregation have been attending services at a nearby church on Broadway in Newark. Belleville – like most other communities in New Jersey – suffered its share of power outages and storm-related property damage and – like the church – relied on all the help it could get – even from out of state.

Councilman Michael Nicosia credited Florida Power & Light for sending in workers to fix downed utility lines toppled by wind and dragged down by fallen trees, particularly for several hundred homes in the area of Belleville and Pleasant aves. which, he said, were on the same electric circuit, and on Ralph Street where several utility poles came down and knocked out power to School 9, which houses grades kindergarten to sixth-grade, and to Wheal- Grace, a 35-employee print shop that also produces a cable TV show, “Tales of the Jersey Shore.” Emil Salvini, the company’s president, credited the Florida utility with working through the nor’easter snowstorm to restore power after being without electricity for nearly a week.

Kearny had prepared for Sandy by participating in a statewide emergency management planning session four days before the storm struck and Police Chief John Dowie said that was key to helping the town through the ordeal.

“The first tree came down on Oakwood Avenue on Monday morning,” Dowie said, “and from then on, we were off to the races.”


Photo courtesy Michael Nicosia
Personnel from a Florida utility company take a break from power restoration duties in Belleville.

During the next seven days, Dowie said, municipal personnel responded to more than 1,000 Sandy-related calls for help: rescuing motorists stranded in badly inundated sections of South Kearny, along with two police officers, Frank West and Pat Becker, trapped on the Hackensack River bridge while setting up barricades and flares after the county had ordered Rt. 7 closed to traffic. Dowie offered kudos to DPW heavy equipment operator Rich Bubenas for driving a front end loader with bucket attachment – and getting drenched in the process – along with Officer Jack Corbett and Det. Ray Lopez in the bucket – to reach those in need.

Among those feeling the storm’s impact were the 200- unit General Kearny Apartments on Belgrove Drive, the huge Owens-Corning plant off Rt. 7, the ShopRite on Passaic Avenue and the Hudson County Jail on Hackensack Avenue with nearly 2,000 inmates.

A preliminary assessment of Sandy-related devastation, as compiled by Kearny OEM coordinator Police Sgt. John Manley, offers these grim estimates: 300 industries and commercial businesses, $50.5 million in damages; 150 single-family homes and 50 apartment units, $8 million in damages.

The town will be seeking compensation from FEMA to help pay for $2 million in water control facility costs, $1 million for damaged public buildings and equipment, $750,000 in debris clearance and $320,000 in employee overtime.

In Lyndhurst, the township’s Municipal Alliance is seeking monetary donations on behalf of local residents whose homes were destroyed by flooding. Six homes on Peabody Street, Park Avenue and Riverside Avenue were ruined when overflow from the Passaic River rushed into the neighborhood, undermining foundations of the properties, according to the township. Donors are asked to send a check or money order, payable to the Lyndhurst Municipal Alliance, to: Lyndhurst Police Department, Att: Gail Knapp, 367 Valley Brook Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071.

Lyndhurst public schools also took at hit from Sandy. Here’s a casualty list from School Business Administrator David DiPisa: The district will spend about $171,000 to replace about 30 percent of the high school roof lost during the storm which also caused water damaged to five classrooms below on the east side of the building; a contractor removed from Matera Field a fallen light fixture and six 70-foot-tall trees, one of which fell onto a house garage on Page Avenue; at Columbus School, the storm blew down a fence, swept some pointing from a chimney, water infiltrated first- and second-floor hallways and compromised a second-floor ceiling; at Franklin School, wind ripped off aluminum siding on the south side of the school, damaged the exterior school sign and blew open the Fern Avenue entrance doors and bent the door frames; and at Roosevelt School, wind ripped off roof coping on the building’s east side and blew open the entrance doors and bent their frames on the north side.

In North Arlington, close to 100 properties were scarred by Sandy, said borough Construction Official Robert Kairys. An apartment building at 255 River Road had its electrical box submerged and groundfloor tenants, in particular, bore the brunt of the outage, he said. Other residences on the west side of River Road saw basement furnaces and heaters ruined by flooding and the onrushing river water actually moved an interior wall connecting the common rear wall of a bagel shop, pizzeria and dry cleaners in the 41 block of River Road by four feet, Kairys said. Property owners who apply for permits to do repairs will have their inspection fees waived by the borough, he said.

Sandy also inundated the borough’s River Road firehouse. Kairys, a borough volunteer fire captain assigned to that firehouse, said: “River water came up through the drains of the bay floor and washed out the front glass door and window. Our emergency generator was exposed to the water and our smoke training machine got wet and isn’t working properly. Also, our equipment storage shed was under water.” None of the station’s rigs were harmed but the motor of the department’s fire boat was damaged during a storm rescue effort, he said.

In Harrison, Red Bull Arena escaped Sandy’s wrath but plenty of other properties – especially those near the Passaic River – took a hit from storm winds and water. Mayor Ray McDonough said estimates put damage to private sector properties at $7 million and to public facilities at $2 million, including the Town Library’s leaking roof and the flooded DARE building at Rodgers Blvd. and Sherman Avenue leased to the Board of Education. The PATH station was also put out of service.

Nutley properties suffered “millions of dollars” in damages, reported Mayor Alphonso Petracco. “Numerous homes and a lot of vehicles in driveways were struck by falling trees,” Petracco said. The municipal ambulance was sideswiped by a toppled tree while it was parked in front of the Municipal Building, but the mayor said it’s repairable.

As of last week, Petracco said, “we still have numerous people without electricity. … I’m very disappointed in PSE&G communications with local officials (on providing power updates) and I’m contemplating putting in a complaint with the BPU (state Board of Public Utilities). I applaud the efforts of the utility’s men and women in the streets but not the people in the suits and ties.”

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