Westfield Braces for Hurricane Sandy
Monday, October 29, 2012 • 4:45pm
WESTFIELD, NJ—Update: As of now, PSE&G is reporting that fewer than 500 customers in Westfield have lost power. Widespread outages are expected as the storm progresses and its intensity increases here.
According to a tweet by Downtown Westfield Corporation, most downtown businesses are closed, but Vicki's Diner, Panera Bread and Trader Joe's remained open this afternoon.
Mayor Andy Skibitsky is urging residents to stay in their homes. He issued a Hurricane Sandy update at 12:45 on the town's website, www.westfieldnj.gov. Read it here.
Westfield Public Schools are officially closed Tuesday, October 30, as well as Monday.
At an emergency town council meeting held October 28, Town Administrator Jim Gildea gave assurances that, when it comes to the impending storm, “We are very, very prepared for everything that comes our way.”
Nevertheless, Westfield Fire Chief Daniel Kelly warned “This is a storm of historical proportion.”
Mayor Andy Skibitsky said that all non-essential town employees have been told to stay home Monday. He added that residents should not come to the municipal building to pay taxes until the crisis is over.
“The thing we really need to stress to residents is to stay off the roads,” said Mayor Andy Skibitsky. “Stay inside.” And, he added, “Any downed wires, expect that they’re live.”
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick was on hand at the meeting to coordinate with the town of Westfield.
“I think the governor is concerned—seriously concerned,” said Bramnick. He said that he expects Christie will use the state of emergency to clear the roads of all vehicles except emergency vehicles.
Skibitsky has been in touch with PSE&G and, although the company has taken precautions—including erecting a 4-foot wall around a substation in Cranford that took out much of Westfield’s power during Irene—he said, “I think we ought to expect widespread, prolonged outages.”
If your home loses power, it is important to contact your power company, as they have no other way of knowing which customers are without electricity, noted Bramnick.
Although Westfield is not prone to the same flooding that affects nearby towns, Skibitsky said that Westfield is prepared for the possibility that a few residents could need emergency shelter, especially if high winds cause a large tree to fall. If your home becomes uninhabitable and you are unable stay with friends or family, call the Westfield police department at 908-789-4000 and shelter will be arranged.
Westfield police, fire and public works departments are fully staffed, and any planned staff vacations have been canceled.
For safety’s sake, Gildea is urging residents, “Stay in your home. Let the public safety officials do their work and stay out of the way.”
Chief of Police David Wayman stressed, “911 must be utilized only for emergencies,” and added that the dispatch center will be fully staffed.
Before the storm begins, “If residents haven’t already secured patio furniture and Halloween decorations, please do,” said Fire Chief Kelly. Wind gusts, which could exceed 80 mph, can turn these objects into “projectiles,” he said.
Once the storm begins, Kelly urges residents to say inside. “We recommend that you walk your pets in your backyard, and look out for tree limbs.” He asked that residents stay out of the streets and treat any downed wires as if they are energized.
Kelly also urged caution when using portable generators. “Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations,” he said, adding that gasoline generators must be kept outdoors, as the carbon monoxide that they create can be deadly.
Candles, too, can be a source of danger, as the fire chief has seen firsthand. “Don’t leave a candle unattended,” he warned, and he reminded people to remove all decorative material from and keep combustible material away from candles.
Police Chief David Wayman said that the Westfield PD began implementing their strategical emergency operations plans on Thursday in anticipation of the storm. Staffing will was increased starting midnight October 28. Police officers who do not live near Westfield will be put up in local housing so that they will not have to commute during dangerous conditions.
The volunteer rescue squad is prepared and the police department is fully stocked with emergency supplies and has all of the necessary equipment, he said. Wayman also expressed complete confidence in the radio system, which was also used for dispatch for Cranford when Hurricane Irene took down that town’s system.
“There’s no question that we’ll get through this,” said Wayman.
Mayor Skibitsky asked that, for as long as it is safe to do so, residents continue to help by moving leaves to at least 12 inches from the curb, which will allow stormwaters to flow to the inlets and help minimize local street flooding.
Public Works Superintendent Claude Shaffer said that the department will clear tree limbs from streets as quickly as possible, but warned that live wires must be de-energized by PSE&G before that can be done.
Gildea added, “We have to make sure our employees are going to be safe.” For residents, this will mean waiting until the storm is over for branches and debris to be cleared from streets.
The storm has the potential to strongly affect Westfield’s finances. “From a budget perspective, no town is budgeted for this,” said Gildea. However, he added, “We are much more aware now of what to record for potential FEMA reimbursements.”
Westfield Public Schools have announced that they will be closed Monday and Tuesday. For up-to-the-minute information about school closures, click here.
Many Westfield businesses had closed by Sunday night in anticipation of the storm.
Recycling pick-ups scheduled for wards 1 and 2 on Monday, October 29 and Tuesday, October 30, have been rescheduled for Friday, November 2.
Westfield’s town council is discussing the possibility of moving trick-or-treating from October 31 to a later date, if necessary for safety’s sake.
For the latest information about how Hurricane Sandy is affecting Westfield, visit the town’s website, www.westfieldnj.gov, follow the town of Westfield on Twitter and keep coming back to thealternativepress.com/towns/westfield.
Editor's Note: Please send your photos (safely taken from inside) and updates to firstname.lastname@example.org.