'Unprecedented Disaster' Hurricane Sandy Hobbles Township

Power could be out for more than 10 days and non-presence of utility companies has forced the township to skip over the clearing of some downed trees. Wyckoff managed to escape the "catastrophic" storm without any fatalities.

Township officials — including committeemen, representatives from police, fire, emergency management and public works — met Tuesday afternoon to discuss their ongoing response to Hurricane Sandy, a massive storm that ripped through the township.  

"This is an unprecedented disaster for Wyckoff ," said Mayor Chris DePhillips. "We've seen the catastrophic impacts here in town."

Nearly all of Wyckoff is without power and an unknown, though large, number of streets remained blocked. Police, public works and utility companies scrambled to coordinate their response, but initial reports say 62 percent of New Jersey residents are without power, so PSEG and Orange and Rockland County are stretched thin.

Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox believes that residents should anticipate a 10-day outage.

DePhillips spoke with PSEG Regional Public Affairs Manager Art Ondish, who refused to provide specifics on when power would return to Wyckoff. DePhillips said that he knew of O&R crews operating in Franklin Lakes, but wasn't sure where they'd head next. 

Electrical wires were entangled in many downed trees, presenting potentially dangerous situations for first responders. As a result, Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox said, trees blocking some roads will simply have to be left there for the time being.

"We can't touch the trees until utilities have been through," to deal with what may be live wires, he said. 

Police Chief Benjamin Fox cautioned residents to stay off roadways clogged with hazards, many of which could prove to be fatal.

Between 6 and 9 p.m. on Monday evening, Hurricane Sandy hit Wyckoff with winds that officials estimated were in the 80 mph range, ripping trees, street signs and utility lines to the ground.

Police were on the roads all night responding to calls, but stopped responding to non-emergency calls for a brief window just after 9 p.m.

"We stopped all response except for fire, medical, and calls for severe structure issues [around 9 p.m.]," Fox said. He and officers were concerned for their personal safety.

"Trees were coming down constantly and I wasn't going to have anyone hurt for just a tree in a roadway," Fox said.

"That goes against our grain as first responders," Fox said. "As difficult as that was it's what we had to do because it was the safest thing to do."

Despite the decision to pull some back officers, "essential calls kept coming in constantly," he said.

Medical calls were minimal around the township, Fox said.

Wyckoff Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Rose said the his department responded to 150 calls in the last 24 hours.

They reported 40 to 60 homes with significant damage, some of which were "very severe."

Standby crews were assigned to man each of township's three firehouses for the foreseeable future, Rose said.

DPW Chief Scott Fisher called Hurricane Sandy "100 times worse" than last year's storm.

Fisher urged residents to be patient with his crews who were fighting to clear every roadway as soon as possible, yet faced obstacles such as electrical wires.

"It's going to be a long haul," he said.

OEM Chief David Murphy said that he was working with various township first responders and DPW crews to clear roads. 

His department was also working with the township's building inspector and engineer to conduct thorough structural inspections, but Committeeman Kevin Rooney worried about the immediate future.

"The library has no power, the school system has limited capabilities... hotels are booked solid everywhere," Rooney said. "What do we do next? Last year we were fortunate when Boulder Run was open."

"We're going to run out of fuel," he said. 

Gas stations operate on electrical pumps, and without power the supplies sitting underground would be useless for residents operating generators.

In the next few days it would be essential that residents in need rely on their neighbors, Mayor DePhillips said.

The Wyckof Office of Emergency Management has advised:

  1. Stay away from downed wires.  Always assume wires are live and energized.
  2. The Township advises in the strongest possible terms, that there should be no trick or treating in the township, tomorrow, 10-31-12.  It is simply too dangerous to allow such activities to take place in light of the fact there are downed wires in the Township and the risk of secondary tree collapses exists.
  3. The regularly scheduled Wednesday household garbage collection will take place.
  4. Please remember to keep windows cracked to aid in ventilation.
  5. If you need police assistance, please call the Police desk at201-891-2121 and the Police will respond and, if necessary, on foot if your street is blocked due to wires or trees down.
  6. If you require shelter, please as an initial matter, rely upon family, friends and neighbors.  You should also reach out, if applicable, to your House of Worship for assistance.  Additionally, the County of Bergen is providing an overnight shelter at Bergen County Community College.  We will provide additional sheltering information as it becomes available to us.

For more local Hurricane Sandy news click here:

  • Sandy Central On Patch
  • Gallery: Hurricane Sandy Knocking on Your Door
  • Preparing for Hurricane Sandy in Wyckoff: What You Need to Know
  • DePhillips on Hurricane Sandy's Impact: Strong Winds Likely to KO Electricity
  • Mayor Bivona: 'Massive' Hurricane Sandy Could Cut Power for Days

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Carol Cianci October 31, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Todd Graham October 31, 2012 at 01:17 PM
What is unacceptable? The storm?


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