"This is a very dangerous storm," said Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Cotter as Hurricane Sandy continued to rip through the region Monday night. He had been working around the clock along with other city officials to help coordinate emergency response teams, and set up street closures from the city's emergency command center near Downtown.
The Summit Office of Emergency Management, with its high tech monitors and digital smart-board was starting to fill up around 2p.m. Personnel included city engineer Aaron Schrager, who assisted with planning road closures and a team from the Dept. of Community services, that included director Beth Kinney and manager Jin Blades. On the law enforcement end was Police Chief Robert Weck and Capt. Andrew Bartolotti.
Fire detail was handled by Summit Fire Chief Joseph Houck and his Deputy Chief Eric Evers. Rita McNany helped coordinate public information efforts, along with Mayor Ellen Dickson who issued the city's state of emergency declaration around 6p.m. on Monday.
By 10p.m. Cotter said there had been 25 road closures and nearly 80 percent of the city was without power. The number of trees that were on top of homes was in the double-digits, he said. Kinney, who oversees the city's public works department said city crews were out all day clearing fallen trees and catch basins.
According to Kinney, none of the damage was too surprising since the city was well-prepared. "A lot of trees down, the power's out," she said, "It's going to take us a long time to fix it." Kinney, a Summit resident, wouldn't speculate on how long it would take to restore power. "It's tough to make any kind of projection," she said.
Statements from JCP&L say that it could take as long at 10 days to restore full power to Summit. As of Monday night crews, which had been out all day, were taking a break. "When the wind dies down they will be back out," Kinney said. City crews were also expected to working on repairs and clean-up by Tuesday morning.
Staying Safe From Wires
Fortunately, no major injuries or fatalities were reported in Summit. "The community is responding well," Cotter said.
The city's OEM team worked hard through the day to synthesize all the emergency calls and information that came pouring in. Houck said the fire department had responded to well over two dozen calls Monday night, probably close to 50. "We've done our best," he said. "We had two full platoons," of firefighters, he added.
Firefighter's first significant call of the day came around 2p.m. when a large tree feel across Mountain Avenue. No injuries were reported. In another incident, firefighters accidentally drove a truck into dangling power lines and became trapped inside the engine. "There are many low-hanging wires out there," Houck warned. The firefighters stayed inside the engine, until a supervisor came to their aid. At first, they couldn't identify the wires, which turned out to not be electrical.
Houck said the incident involving the firefighters illustrates the danger in taking to the road after a major storm. Sometimes wires can seem invisible until they are directly in contact with a person or vehicle. You have to assume the wire are electrified and dangerous. "We'd like everyone to stay off the road," Houck said about keeping safe.
To that end, Summit is under a state of emergency until midnight Tuesday to make sure streets are clear for work crews to get around, and to avoid coming in contact with electrical wires. "The danger does not go away by itself," Cotter said about post hurricane clean-up. As storm winds continue through the day, Cotter said the city is requesting that residents stay inside. "We're very concerned about that," he said. "Stay away from downed wires."