Union County officials are urging residents dealing with damages from Hurricane Irene to be patient as they apply for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
"We are in the assessment stage," said Union County spokesman Jim Pellettiere. "People are trying to put the cart before the horse. No funding will be made available until preliminary damage assessments are done."
In order for a state, county, township or resident to receive FEMA funding, a Federal Disaster Declaration must be issued by the federal agency. Such a declaration can only be made after the governor submits an official disaster request to FEMA that includes the estimated cost of damages sustained by the storm. Providing an accurate statewide report to FEMA takes several days as crews of engineers must assess structural damage to homes, bridges, dams, highways and other structures, according to a county news release issued this week. Public utility companies also must document any damage to poles, wires and substations. In addition, government agencies must calculate the actual costs of providing additional public safety services during the preparation, response and recovery efforts caused by Irene.
Union County is trying to collect damage assessments from all the municipalities in the region by the end of today, Wednesday Aug. 31, to then submit a collective countywide damage assessment to the state. That deadline is not hard and fast, however. Pellettiere said the county would only submit a damage assessment that was accurate and precise, so that may take a few extra days to get everything in order.
"The state can then officially make a request to FEMA for funding," Pellettiere said. "Once FEMA makes that declaration will residents be able to apply for any assistance."
"We understand this is a very tramatuc time for (residents) right now," he added. "We are asking them to assess their damages, take pictures, then sign up for the Union County First Alert System."
As soon as FEMA has made a declaration that makes funding available, residents will be notified through an alert system that sends emails and text messages to those who sign up for the free subscription. At that point, residents will be able to register with FEMA and ask for assistance.
Information about federal disaster declarations and public assistance will be broadcast directly to residents through the Union County First Alert System, the county stated in a news release this week. Residents can register for updates at ucfirstalert.com to have disaster and other emergency information sent directly to their email or smartphone. Information will also be posted on the official Union County website atucnj.org.
Pellettiere said early estimates have shown the county has met that threshold that must be met to obtain federal assistance, even before municipalities formally send in their own submissions, according to Pellettiere.
"Hurricane Irene has really impacted countywide — from Rawhay to Cranford, there are areas of just severe flooding," Pellettiere said. "Emergency response was out all day Saturday and into Sunday and we are still responding to power outages, downed lines and trees, and clearing roadways. ... The threshold isn't a concern. It's about the county being able to have their PDAs, so the townships have their asssessments done, and making sure the residents are reporting damages."
As the county works to collect the damage assessments, officials ask residents to do the following:
- Take photos or videos of any damage caused by the hurricane.
- If you have already started to clean up the damage, document your repairs to the best of you ability.
- Save all receipts, quotes and estimates of any work done; this documentation may be needed in the future by FEMA to file potential claims.
- If you have sustained significant damage to your home, contact your local Office of Emergency Management. The Office of Emergency will include your address and description of the damage sustained in its municipal damage assessment report.
If a Federal Disaster is declared for the State of New Jersey and Union County, FEMA will deploy several damage assessment experts throughout the state to meet with individual residents to review the damage caused by Irene.
In other Union County news:
- The free Summer Arts Concert at Oak Ridge Park in Clark will go on as scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Attendees are asked to bring nutritious canned or packaged non-perishable food, for donation to flood victims. Donations may be dropped off any time after 7 p.m.
- Emergency road closures due to flooding, sinkholes, power lines and other hazards are still in effect. For a complete list of affected roads and updates, visit www.ucnj and follow the link on the home page.
- Meals-on-Wheels suspended individual and congregate meals on Monday due to damage at its facility in Linden. Home deliveries will resume on Thursday but congregate meals are still suspended until further notice.
- The Union County Paratransit System was operating on a limited schedule on Monday. It is now back to normal service as of Tuesday.
- Union County Superior Court was ordered closed on Monday and has resumed normal hours and operations.
- The Union County Vo-Tech Schools campus is still without power. The student orientation scheduled for Tuesday has been canceled.
- Union County’s recreational facilities are returning to normal operations but Ash Brook Golf Course, Ulrich Swimming Pool and baseball, soccer, tennis and other sports fields remain closed until further notice.
- Summit and Springfield remain under a boil-water advisory from New Jersey American Water. The company has also issued a discolored water advisory for Union County. Customers can get updates from www.newjerseyamwater.com (use the Alerts Notification link at top of home page).
- The Union County Office of Consumer Affairs reminds residents to be alert for storm-related insurance scams and price gouging. Residents who suspect they are being excessively charged for gasoline, home repairs or other goods and services can report the incident by calling the Office of Consumer Affairs, 908-654-9840.