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Lessons Learned from Tropical Storm Irene

8-28-12

One year after Tropical Storm Irene devastated parts of New Jersey, officials are working to reduce the possibility of flooding during recent storms and power companies are taking precautions and increasing their communication with customers. But the memories of the storm are still fresh for those who lived through the destruction.

“It was unnerving. Everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve put into this house, raising our kids in this house, we lost in minutes,” said Frank Genova of Cranford.

Genova and his family just moved back into their Cranford home in June. The water line — 14 inches high — is still visible on their garage, a constant reminder of the despair brought on by Tropical Storm Irene, which ravaged parts of New Jersey with massive flooding and power outages.

The Genova family elevated their house 41 inches in January. It’s still a work in progress. They have no flood insurance and so far it’s cost them $130,000, $30,000 of which came from FEMA.

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In the wake of Irene, more than $99 million has been approved by FEMA for public assistance state wide.

“We are getting storm weary at this point, but the community has come together to try to find ways that we can help each other as neighbors,” said Tom Hannen of the Cranford Flood Advisory Council.

Hannen is part of the team developing a proposal with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a control structure at the South Mountain Reservation, which would limit the amount of water that will flow through that area and ultimately impact all the towns along the Rahway River.

“If any of that water can be held back for a short period of time and let out gradually that will give the systems that have been created in Springfield, in Cranford, in Rahway, time to absorb the water, push it down towards the Arthur Kill without having that wave of water come down,” Hannen said.

Flooding was only part of the widespread damage caused by Irene. The storm left hundreds of thousands without power.

“Every storm you look for lessons learned, things you can do better, things you’ll do differently next time around,” said Jersey Central Power & Light Spokesman Ron Morano.

JCP&L representatives say since the storm they’ve increased communication via social media and a new smartphone-compatible program and made other expansions like hiring 36 new linemen and adding new laptops in fleet trucks.

The Board of Public Utilities was ordered by Gov. Chris Christie to examine how all the state’s utilities performed during Tropical Storm Irene and the October snowstorm. The BPU says the report will be released soon. As for the Genova family, they plan to only finish the projects they can afford now and they’re hoping for a FEMA mitigation grant.

“It’s not forgotten just like 9/11 should never be forgotten you know,” Joan Genova said. “I just take one day at a time.”

Lauren Wanko reports from Cranford.