Westfield Mayor Andy Skibitsky began the 5:30 p.m. town-wide conference call by acknowledging the catastrophic damage the Town has undergone but noted that when compared to what other communities have experienced Westfielders have to count their blessings.
Skibitsky said as a result of the storm, 153 roads were blocked, of which 57 are now open. PSE&G must address power line issues before the remaining closed streets can re-open. Ten homes sustained damage to the point that they are no longer inhabitable. Eleven garages also suffered extensive damage and 52 additional homes also sustained serious damage.
The mayor told listeners "numerous people are advocating on your behalf" in regards to power restoration but noted that PSE&G crews have a "monumental task" in front of them.
Rick Thigpin, vice president of Government Affairs for PSE&G, said the utility is working very hard to restore power. He explained that there are 12,400 meters in town. At the height of the storm 10,000 went out. Currently, 7,900 meters are out. Thigpin said Westfielders can expect to see that number drop "substantially" this weekend.
He explained that as a result of the storm, Westfield's electrical system needs to be "rebuilt from the ground up." Power in Westfield is fed by five substations, he explained, with 28 circuits coming into town. Currently 12 of those are out "for various reasons." The vast majority of damage is tree-related, he said.
He noted that residents who see power restored to a neighbor's home but not their own should call 800-436-7734 to report their outage as a tree may have damaged their wires. A crew will then be resent to that area to make the necessary repairs.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said residents should know PSE&G is "not only here, they’re staying here" and have been working in Westfield for last 24 hours.
Senator Tom Kean reminded residents to check in on neighbors and, if possible, share an extension cord from a generator, especially as the next two nights are expected to be colder than previous evenings.
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 expected to remain open through to the end of the day on Wednesday, Nov. 7 and space is available for overnight stays.
Residents needing information or looking to volunteer should call 908-654-9881. Counselors and FEMA representatives are on-site for those in need of assistance.
Mirabella also said the county is working to address getting main roads such as Central Avenue clear again to alleviate the pressure on side roads.
He also reminded residents that they can vote before Tuesday, Nov. 6 by visiting the County Clerk's office located at 300 North Avenue E. in Westfield. The office will be open tomorrow, Sunday, Nov. 4 from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. and again on Monday, Nov. 5 until 3 p.m. All residents can vote on Election Day at their regular polling places, which will either have power or will be powered by generators.
Town Administrator Jim Gildea said at this time 40 percent of Westfield's road are closed "in some way, shape or form." He said crews are escorting PSE&G workers to locations and the Town has a comprehensive list road by road and is aware of all road closures and blockages. He said DPW crews are clearing debris from schools and will continue to do so tonight and tomorrow.
Westfield Board of Education President Rich Mattessich said aside from just the lack of electricity, the decision to open schools will also be based on the ability of students to travel safely to and from school.
He said schools superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan is evaluating all of these factors as well as if staff, many of whom do not reside in town, will have the ability or gasoline to travel to school safely.
Aside from lack of power, Mattessich said, the school buildings were ready on Wednesday. He said parents will continue to be alerted through the Honeywell system and once the server is restored, the school's email and website will be working and updated once again. He asked that residents who live next to schools not put their debris in front of school property as it interferes with student drop-off and pick-up. He reiterated that safety for students and staff is top priority. If students cannot safely attend school, they will not be penalized.
If the schools have power, the schedule is as follows:
Mon-Tues-Wed. Grades K-5 follow half-day schedule: 8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Grades 6-12 will follow a regular full day schedule.
Parent-teacher conferences will be held though if a parent cannot attend, it can easily be rescheduled.
Thursday and Friday: All students in all grades will follow a full day schedule. As these were previously vacation days, students who had made other plans will not be penalized for not attending school.
Mattessich said they have also reached out to bus companies to ensure buses have enough gas.
Jefferson Elementary School located at 1200 Boulevard will open at 8 p.m. this evening to provide warmth to those without heat. The school will not provide food or sleeping arrangements, just heat. It will remain open all night until school is open.
Westfield Fire Chief Dan Kelly spoke again about the importance of not using fuel-powered equipment in the home. He said the fire department and rescue squad have been called to several incidents as a result of not using equipment safely. To read a message from Kelly, click here.
Westfield Police Chief David Wayman said public safety has not been compromised as a result of the storm. He asked residents to be mindful of Gov. Christie's executive order regarding gasoline.
Skibitsky also noted that the storm has been tough on Westfield merchants and said the Town is advocating on their behalf to get them "up and running as soon as possible." He said when they are open again, think of Westfield first as many will need "an economic shot in the arm" to recover from the loss of business.
Meghan Avallone of the Westfield Board of Health said residents can call 211 for answers to public health questions or contact FEMA at 800-621-3362 or visit www. disasterassistance.gov. A mental health hotline staffed by professionals is available at 1-877-294-4357. She said water is safe to drink and recommended that residents 'like' NJ American Water's Facebook page for continuous updates.
Skibitsky also noted that there is an extension for tax payments and no penalties will be assessed until Nov. 8.
There will be a one-time pick up for organic debris. It started today around schools and residents are asked to do their best in terms of separating leaves and debris.
Recycling will resume on Nov. 12. The conservation center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and will be open during the course of next week from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The mayor reminded residents to treat every downed wire as a live wire and to not block driveways while waiting in line for gas.
For those who wish to hear the call in its entirety, it was recorded and can be heard at www.westfieldnj.gov.