Mayor Andy Skibitsky began the second town-wide conference call Tuesday evening by stating that it has been eight days since Hurricane Sandy hit Westfield and still too many residents are without electricity.
He acknowledged the frustration that accompanies the uncertainty of not having an accurate timeframe for when power will be restored or when roads will be cleared but said that is a result of the complexity of the electricity grid and the extensive, unprecedented damage caused by the storm.
Skibitsky said in light of the impending Nor'easter he wanted to provide residents with the most up-to-date information possible. He also encouraged Westfielders to follow the Town of Westfield on Twitter.
Rick Thigpin, vice president of Government Affairs for PSE&G, spoke next and told residents that just because they don't see crews working, it doesn't mean they aren't. Don’t substitute visibility for effectiveness, he said.
Thigpin said power has been restored to 5,800 out of 10,000 Westfield customers who originally lost it, with 300 restored today. Still, 3,700 Westfield residents are without power but he reassured listeners that crews will not stop working until every customer has power back. He acknowledged that as power comes back there will be "fluctuations." Some who have had power restored may see it interrupted as crews need to cut power to work safely. He said it is a priority that out-of-state crews return home safely.
On the town conference call held Saturday evening, Thigpin said out of 28 circuits, 16 were working. As of Tuesday, 20 are working.
He said many residents have been told it will be seven more days before power is restored but he believes that is a worst case scenario. He explained that it is the utility's goal to restore power to as many customers at one time as possible. So if a resident has a fallen tree that has taken down a wire and that home is the only one affected by it, they will most likely be at the bottom of the list.
"Westfield is well on its way back to restoration," Thigpin said. "Westfield is not alone. It has not been forgotten. We will get to you as quickly as humanly possible."
Thigpin recommended checking in with PSE&G to let the utility know you are still without power, especially if neighboring residences are restored.
Kristy Miller with the Board of Public Utilities said everyone is working tirelessly to see that power is restored. She said Gov. Christie has the effort "highly coordinated."
Senator Tom Kean said he knows how frustrating it is to be unable to make plans for the next 24 hours as schools remain closed and power is out. He told listeners that the utilities are being held accountable for a real and timely solution.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said "we are focused like a missile on this thing" and said once again that crews are in town and not leaving until the job is done.
Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders Chairman Alexander Mirabella reminded residents without heat or electricity that they can warm up, charge their electronic devices and get meals at the Union County Regional Shelter, at 220 Walnut Street in Cranford. The shelter is pet-friendly and space is available for overnight stays. Residents needing information or looking to volunteer should call 908-654-9881.
Westfield Board of Education President Rich Mattessich said the decision to keep schools closed again Wednesday, Nov. 7 was not made lightly but out of concern for the safety of students. He said town officials and Westfield Police Chief David Wayman determined that with 70 of the town's roads still closed, conditions are still unsafe. He said all schools but Wilson have power. With the help of the Armory, the Westfield Fire Department and private citizens, an alternative source of power has been established but until safety is not compromised the schools will remain closed.
Mattessich said when schools are closed, fields are to remain closed as well and said coaches will be reminded of this. Some residents have asked why the schools haven't closed for the remainder of the week, he said, but the Board and Westfield schools superintendent Dr. Dolan do not want to give up hope that they can open this week.
He said Dr. Dolan and every board member knows parents want children to return to school. He said they are also concerned about the number of days missed and will publicly discuss alternatives in the future.
He reminded residents to listen for daily Honeywell alerts.
Town Administrator Jim Gildea said 70 roads in town are closed due to down wires, polls or transformers and if there are trees remaining it is because the Town is awaiting PSEG’s participation. He said the town keeps lists of the roads and that list is updated daily and "no road has been forgotten." He also stated that 13 homes have been deemed uninhabitable, 13 garages have also been destroyed and 82 homes have sustained significant damage. The Westfield United Fund has established a Hurricane Sandy relief fund to help local families in need.
Curbside brush pick up continues and he assured residents that storm drains had been cleared in preparation for the impending storm.
Westfield Fire Chief Dan Kelly spoke again about the importance of not using fuel-powered equipment in the home. To read a message from Kelly, click here. He also reminded residents to make sure the batteries in their smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors had been changed recently.
He and Westfield Police Chief David Wayman spoke about the importance of not removing barricades, caution tape or cones. Doing so puts others at risk of serious injury. Police or fire officials will remove the barriers when it is no longer dangerous.
Wayman said public safety has not been compromised as a result of the storm but again stated that increased patrols are circulating and he encouraged residents to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious to police.
Skibitsky closed the call by saying it is difficult for him to ask for residents' continued patience but that he must. He added that his heart and prayers go out to those residents who have suffered losses.