WESTFIELD, NJ—On the evening of November 6, the town of Westfield held its second townwide conference call to discuss recovery from Hurricane Sandy. Speakers included Mayor Andy Skibitsky, a representative of PSE&G, a representative of the Westfield Board of Education, a legislative liaison to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, Freeholder Chairman Mirabella, Senator Tom Kean, Town Administrator Jim Gildea and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
Mayor Skibitsky began the call by speaking of the lack of timetables from PSE&G as power is restored. “The uncertainty is creating a lot of frustration,” he said.
A representative from PSE&G said that they are very sympathetic to the pain and suffering caused by the lack of electricity and that their mission is to restore power as quickly as possible. He also explained that the complexity of the situation is keeping the company from being able to develop accurate timetables. There is no way for the company to know the specific reason each customer is without power until they energize the circuit.
Currently, 3,700 customers in Westfield remain without power—down 300 from just this morning. But as power is restored, some customers are temporarily losing power. This is because, as damaged circuits are identified, they are removed to be safely restored.
There are 28 circuits in Westfield. Twenty of these are working.
Because it’s the company’s mission to efficiently and effectively restore power to as many people as possible as quickly as possible, individual downed lines that can only restore power to one customer are the lowest priorities. This is also why many roads in Westfield remain closed, as it is unsafe to remove fallen trees entangled in live wires.
Much of what PSE&G is working on to restore power in Westfield is not visible on the streets, he explained, and work being done in a nearby town may actually be restoring power to Westfield residents. “We cannot substitute visibility for effectiveness,” he said.
Customers must call PSE&G to let the company know that they are without power, and it is recommended that they call every other day, as PSE&G has no way of telling if a secondary problem is causing an outage after a larger problem is fixed.
Freeholder Chairman Mirabella reminded residents that the Union County shelter at 220 Walnut in Cranford is comfortable and available for anyone who needs a warm place to go. This shelter is pet-friendly and meals are being served. Anyone in need of a ride there can call 654-9881.
Anyone in need of assistance from FEMA should call 1-800-621-3363 or visit www.disasterassistance.gov.
He also said that the National Forest Service is assisting in the recovery effort.
Regarding the upcoming storm predicted to hit tomorrow (Wednesday), Mirabella said that the good news is that it will not be as bad as originally predicted.
A representative from the Westfield Board of Education announced that Westfield Public Schools will remain closed on November 7 due to safety concerns. Seventy streets in Westfield remain closed.
Once streets are safe for students to travel, the schools are ready to be reopened—most have electricity, with Wilson School running on a generator.
It remains possible that Westfield schools could open this week. How Westfield schools will make up for lost days will be up for public discussion.
School fields will remain closed until the schools reopen and no teams will be allowed to practice on them.
Jefferson school remains open 24-hours a day to the public as a warming center.
According to Town Administrator Jim Gildea, PSE&G’s participation is needed to reopen the 70 roads in Westfield that remain closed. The town is keeping a comprehensive list of these roads.
Thirteen homes have now been deemed uninhabitable in Westfield and the Westfield United fund is opening a Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.
Fire Chief Daniel Kelly and Police Chief David Wayman warned that roads that have been taped off, barricaded or have caution cones have these for a reason, and that removing any of these signs or trying to go around them can have dangerous consequences.
Kelly reminded residents that fuel-powered equipment should be kept a minimum of 15 feet from homes, to never leave fires or candles unattended and to make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working. Skibitsky later added that in town there have been close calls involving carbon monoxide and one fire caused by a candle.
Wayman said that more police than usual are on patrol to prevent crime during this time.
“We do care about you,” added Skibitsky at the end of the call. “We will get through this.”