Flash floods swamped cars at the Avenel train station and hail pelted vehicles in Oakland. A storm that barreled across Jersey knocked out power for more than 360,000 Monday night. On Tuesday morning cars left wakes fording through Hackensack. But the heat wave broke hardest in Howell Township where 70 mph winds tore up trees. One giant tree cracked a house in half, coming close to tragedy, according to Chief Andrew Kudrick.
“One completely crushed the house, went through a bedroom where a young child was. She escaped injury, fortunately,” Kudrick said. “For the amount of destruction, for what happened in this town last night, for nobody to have been injured is, I don’t want to say it’s a miracle, but we’re very fortunate.”
Downed trees and wires closed roads as crews worked behind barricades. A maple just missed Donna Frank’s house.
“They were like this, swaying, and they’re very heavy trees. That’s what got me scared,” she said.
“Like a war zone. All the trees and everything is down on the sides of the road. I’ve never seen it like this,” said Steve Besignano.
Kudrick says 18,000 people in Howell lost power overnight, as did 45% of Monmouth County where JCP&L’s the major utility. The chief is deeply frustrated over trying to get a rise out of them for hours.
“Basically we were blown off and ignored. Then we were told that we had to call up the Monmouth County Emergency Operations Center. They when we called them they had discontinued the Operations Center for the night. We just kept getting bounced around,” Kudrick said.
He vented his frustration Tuesday afternoon when Gov. Phil Murphy toured the communications nerve center — still running on generators waiting for JCP&L.
“We have to get to the bottom of that. I’m looking at my teammates. I have no idea where that comes from. This is the nerve center. I can’t believe that that’s an accurate assessment,” Murphy said.
JCP&L’s performance during last year’s so-called four-Easter drew severe criticism, prompting New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities to strengthen storm prep and response requirements.
A JCP&L spokesperson said, “… our External Affairs teams have been working very closely with leaders of communities, especially in the hardest hit areas of Monmouth, Ocean, Middlesex, Burlington and Mercer counties, to ensure they have the support they need during the restoration effort. We appreciate their patience … ”
The BPU indicated hundreds of utility crews are inbound from as far away as Canada to help restore power. It’ll take days. Meteorologists expressed no surprise at flash floods and outages, or the storm’s ferocity after a heat wave.
“That heat index when they were hitting 110 is kind of a measure of just how hot and humid the air was. And that’s all sort of potential energy for thunderstorms to tap into,” said meteorologist Gary Szatkowski.
The clean up will begin in earnest now, with trees getting cleared out and power lines rehung over the next few days.