By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Before there was Sandy, there was Irene.
Images are a stark reminder of Irene’s wrath. Two years ago, the tropical storm caused widespread flooding and destruction. Trees toppled, many roads were impassable and hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses lost power. President Obama declared the entire state a disaster area. One of the hardest hit communities was Paterson. Residents remember well the devastation caused by Irene.
“Everything was flooded. You couldn’t walk. The water came up to here. When you got by the towers, it was like you were swimming through. It was horrible,” said Paterson resident Brandon Eubanks.
An entire area near Presidential Boulevard, including a bridge, was under water and it stayed that way for days.
Two years later, there are signs of progress. Most businesses and residents have come back. There’s even a new grocery store. But those that weathered the storm say they’re still struggling to survive.
“Some of us have survived, making it day by day. And like I told you, it’s really hard,” said Mayra Gutierrez, supervisor at G & A Appliance Warehouse.
“The store right next behind to my pharmacy is also vacant. A lot of people coming to see to rent it and the first question they ask is is there a water logging problem?” explained pharmacist Keyur Patel of Presidential Pharmacy.
FEMA did provide assistance. More than $176 million was approved for individuals and households across the state. Hard hit businesses were eligible for a FEMA loan. But some rejected it and instead faced the daunting task of recovery alone.
“That’s the best they could do, a loan. But if you don’t have the inventory and you’re on the floor, how you going to get a loan? With what are you going to pay it?” asked Gutierrez.
“They’ve gone to the FEMA trailer and they were told, ‘We can’t help you. You need to apply here and there.’ Some have closed up shop. Others, we’re now looking at Blue Acres sites now because they’ve been repeated flooding. It’s nightmarish,” said Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones.
And the mayor says Paterson is still waiting for federal dollars to cover the costs the city incurred from the storm.
“We’re still waiting for about $1 million. That may be gas, it might be employee time, that might be those things. It has nothing to do with the other services. Some of that’s going to be a loss for us,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, everyone is bracing for the next storm.
“I also have loss of staff, I have loss of resources. The bridges have not been raised or lowered, the river hasn’t been scarfed or trenched out. We don’t have a USGS gauge. So nothing’s changed. Nothing’s changed. We just have to be ready,” said Jones.
And since hurricane season is underway, being ready is essential.