NJ families face hardship


BOUND BROOK, NEW JERSEY (Sept. 20, 1999) -- As residents gradually leave shelters and return to their homes, many are opening their doors to find all their possessions ruined, their homes inundated with dank mud, and their financial situation precarious.

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) assessment teams estimate that, in Bound Brook alone, some 2,000 families -- about 85% of them Latin immigrants -- were affected by rapidly rising floodwaters spawned by Tropical Storm Floyd's torrential rains.

In Little Falls, about 1,000 families suffered flood damage. UMCOR is sending $10,000 to the state to help address unmet needs.

Those needs could be both pressing and long-term, said Floyd Briggs, state manager of emergency services for the Salvation Army. "Right now early estimates show that more than half of the affected families don't have flood insurance," he said.

Nearly 1,000 people are still residing in shelters, added Tom Thompson, spokesperson for the American Red Cross. In partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention, the Red Cross is operating four field kitchens. "We are also circulating through the affected areas with trucks and clean-up kits," he said. "And mental health counselors are canvassing the area as well."

A few hundred found refuge in the Bound Brook Presbyterian Church, which served as a Red Cross shelter.

As many as 7,000 Bound Brook residents were affected by the floods, which brought six feet of water into some homes, and many won't have gas or electricity for weeks. Hardest hit were the community's Costa Rican residents. Residents were allowed back into their homes to claim what valuable possessions were left, but fire officials discouraged them from staying because gas and oil leaks in basements pose such a hazard.

The streets are piled with ruined furniture, toys, and other broken and ruined belongings.

The best way for people to help is to make a financial contribution, said officials from faith-based organizations, the Red Cross, and Salvation Army. Even more aid could be needed if Tropical Storm Harvey adds more rain to the already inundated state.

In Trenton, the Salvation Army was able to close its shelter when the city arranged housing in a hotel for displaced people. "But we've had mobile feeding units operating since late Wednesday, and they're still on site," said Briggs.

In central New Jersey, as many as 40,000 homes are still without water, and many businesses remain closed, or have agreed to cut down on water usage to help alleviate the state's water emergency. Elizabethtown Water Co. officials said it would take several days to clean its mud-drenched treatment plant in Bridgewater, which was flooded in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd, before it can restore water service in Edison, Elizabeth, Piscataway, and Montgomery.

The National Guard coordinated the delivery of 180,000 gallons of bottled water from McGuire Air Force Base to be distributed to Essex, Union, Middlesex, Sussex, Somerset, Bergen, and Passaic counties. The Guard has provided 29 large water tanks to supply municipalities as well.

Some residents are lining up at emergency water distribution centers throughout the state. Others are cautioned to boil their water before using it to cook or for drinking.

In Edison, N.J., fire hydrants are dry, forcing city officials to borrow tanker trucks from other municipalities as a precaution.

Brenda Beavers, state director of human services for the Salvation Army, said that the biggest needs are for cleaning supplies and water. "But we are accepting no in-kind donations at this time," she said. "Financial contributions are the most direct and immediate way to help."

Response workers are also being challenged by language differences, although Beavers said that there is a large bilingual population in the affected areas.

The National Guard and state law enforcement agencies remain on the streets to help manage cleanup and guard against looting.

The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) is also considering sending volunteer teams once damage assessment reports give a clearer idea of the need. "Over time, you learn that you can't be too quick to send in volunteer teams because you can't always offer the right kind of assistance at first," said Art Jackson, a regional disaster response coordinator for CRWRC. "We're waiting until we find out how we can best use our resources to meet the priority needs."

The Civil Air Patrol was among the groups to volunteer in shelters for the past several days. "We did have a mission planned on Friday to fly over the flooded areas to help delineate where the problems are," said Ted Schober, New Jersey wing director of emergency services. "But the weather was too bad and there was too much turbulence to fly, so we helped man the shelters."

Now the Civil Air Patrol is helping to assess damages, and members will volunteer to help people muck out their homes. "It's not necessarily part of our professional job, but these are our neighbors so we participate as a squadron activity," he said.

He said that, while one set of volunteers can usually staff a shelter for two shifts, when shelters stay open for longer periods, more volunteers are needed.

Schober also voiced the fear on everyone's mind: "We may have another hurricane coming up the coast. We just don't know. The season is not over."

Updated September 20, 1999

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