Ten days without power has meant ten days without heat, hot water, lights, internet, hot meals, clean laundry and a feeling of security for Aberdeen residents, particularly in Strathmore and Cliffwood Beach.
The powerless reached their boiling point Thursday night at a public information meeting in Aberdeen, after most of them spent their tenth day in the dark. What frustrated them the most, however, wasn’t ten days of discomfort – it was the ten days with little to no communication concerning the power outages.
One by one, residents stood at the microphone placed in the courtroom at town hall, venting their anger and demanding answers from local officials at the dais.
Frustrations Rise with JCP&L
Noticeably missing from the dais where Chief John Powers, Deputy Chief Richard Derechailo, Township Manager Holly Reycraft, and Department of Public Works Director Bob Brady sat, were the two representatives from Jersey Central Power and Light who declined to attend the meeting.
Their refusal to attend did not shock those at the meeting, however it did offend them.
“I look at the absence of the two JCP&L representatives here and it tells me what they think of the people of the town and the town council,” said a vocal resident.
The lack of communication throughout the storm and its aftermath has been, according to most residents, unacceptable.
“JCP&L is garbage. They treat us like garbage,” one man at the meeting said. “We’re out of power for a week with no information.”
“Seven to ten days. That’s all we ever hear, is seven to ten days. For some of us, it’s day eleven,” he added.
Officials Share Frustration with JCP&L
Chief Powers told residents that JCP&L had given them little information in regards to where they would be working, when they would be working, and when power would be returned to specific areas.
Thursday night, shortly before the meeting, Powers was able to get information on the next grid the crews intended to work on and which streets that included.
According to the area manager, crews planned to work on Beach Drive, Beachwood Way, Beverly Drive, Cliffwood Avenue, Elmwood Place, Garden Place, Jersey Avenue, Malden Drive, Moore Place, North Concourse, Pinehurst Drive, Prospect Avenue, Riverdale Drive, South Concourse, Sherwood Drive, Center Street, Sunset Avenue, Sylvan Way, Twilight Way and Wayside Drive on Friday. Next, they intended to work on Arbordale Drive, Seawood Drive, Greenwood Avenue, Marshall Concourse and additional work on the Route 35 and Amboy intersection.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to give me an “I” somewhere in this alphabet,’” said Powers, referring to the I section in Strathmore.
Township attorney Mark DiPisa emphasized that JCP&L has been giving the township little to no information, and the information they have received was not necessarily up to date or accurate.
“The communication with these companies is horrible; they are not transparent. The same troubles and struggles that you have with JCP&L, this town has with JCP&L. The reason is they answer to no one and that is a problem. They have a monopoly on us,” said DiPisa.
Mayor Fred Tagliarini said the township would continue to place pressure on JCP&L to repair electrical infrastructure the way they have been pressuring New Jersey American Water to repair water mains.
“We will not rest about JCP&L,” Mayor Fred Tagliarini repeatedly assured the packed courtroom.
Residents of Cliffwood Beach who live along the Raritan Bay not only lost power, but many also suffered damage to their homes from the severe flooding.
Terrified of burglars, one couple chose not to evacuate after two men broke into their Beach Drive home while they were preparing for the storm.
“The night before the storm, my house was being robbed while I was in it,” said Katherine McPeek, a resident of Beach Drive. “They had a crow bar. My house was boarded so it looked like no one was home, sand bags the whole thing. And I see them in my bathroom downstairs. They were already in my garage.”
Waiting out the storm, Katherine and her husband witnessed the storm surge first hand.
“We stayed, when the first floor was full of water and water was bubbling up from the second floor coming in. The surge, the Army Corps said it was almost thirteen feet high. We were waiting, we were afraid the house was going to cave in, so we were on the back deck huddling,” she said.
Another Beach Drive family returned after the storm to find their home without power and damaged by surge of water that Sandy brought with her. Despite having no heat, they remain in order to protect their neighborhood from daytime gawkers and nighttime burglars.
“We had gawkers left and right. It was already a mess and then we have to deal with this issue. We have streets that go down South Concourse, you turn left or right, you go nowhere, but we had cars coming through,” he said.
“People are leaving their homes. They’re wide open for people to come into. We had two houses broken into,” he continued, questioning why the police department did not block off the end of South Concourse which only leads to residential streets that are dead ends and were evacuated.
Strathmore residents shared similar concerns, relaying to local officials that they have had homes and cars broken into and have seen few patrol cars monitoring their neighborhood.
“I can tell you the reason that I have stayed is because I am scared of the number of break-ins in the area,” one resident said.
Powers told residents that officers had been instructed to patrol the township actively, particularly the areas that were still without power.
Power Outages Common in Aberdeen
The Strathmore community pointed out that they understand the damage to the region was extensive, however it doesn’t take a hurricane to cause an outage in the aging development.
“We’ve never lost power for less than one week. It’s 2012, not 1912,” said one Strathmore woman.
Another woman from the C section implored the township to put real pressure on JCP&L. During Irene, she and her husband lost power at their home for five and a half days and during Sandy, they were in the dark for nine days.
“What I want to know is, what can be done or what will be done to deal with the fact that the systems are antiquated and that might be part of the reason we always lose power?” she said. “Why is Aberdeen constantly, constantly forgotten and neglected? We’ve lived here for ten years and we’re always the first to lose power and the last ones to get it back and I have had enough. I want to know what is going to be done.”
As of 5 p.m. Friday night, eleven days after the storm, the number of power outages in Aberdeen was 775.