LINCROFT, N.J. -- On Oct. 29, 2012, New Jersey found itself in the crosshairs of the largest Atlantic storm ever recorded. Aided by a full moon tide, the storm swept ashore with a range and power that impacted all of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
When the winds died and the waters calmed, residents were confronted with a level of destruction most New Jerseyans had never before experienced.
Roads were obstructed. Traffic signals were not functioning. More than 2.4 million New Jersey residents were without power. Rail lines were flooded. Commuter ferries were unable to function.
On Oct. 29, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie contacted the federal government to request assistance in responding to the disaster.
On Oct. 30, President Barack Obama declared a major disaster, which authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to deploy personnel and resources to assist the state in helping the citizens of New Jersey in obtaining shelter, restoring public safety and planning for long-term recovery.
More than 40,000 homes and apartments sustained major damage during the storm. With the support of the State of New Jersey, local and emergency officials, the American Red Cross and more than 500 other Volunteer Agencies Active in Disaster, FEMA helped to establish shelters to house the thousands of people unable to return to their homes and take care of their immediate needs.
The lack of access to routine services provided by supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies and other community businesses further burdened a population already struggling with the challenges presented by the disaster.
The storm was particularly devastating for families with young children, the elderly and others with access and functional needs.
With the support of state and federal agencies, recovery began almost immediately: Families helped families, neighbors helped neighbors, and local emergency response teams spread out across the state’s towns and counties to save lives and restore order.
Protection of lives and property was of primary importance. Emergency officials moved rapidly to conduct inspections to expedite the removal of the debris that littered the landscape, obstructing roads, rail lines and waterways and threatening public safety.
Repairing vital infrastructure was critical: Power lines were down; cell phone service was out; sewage and transportation systems were out of action and hundreds of homes had been damaged to such a degree that they were in imminent danger of collapse.
Each type of damage required particular expertise. Utility workers from around the nation were called in to assist in securing gas lines, restore electricity and reconnecting communications networks.
The circle of recovery rapidly expanded to include members of the New Jersey National Guard, state, county and local emergency responders, teams of volunteers from across the nation, and some 3,000 disaster assistance specialists from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The FEMA mission for individuals was targeted and specific: to provide safe, secure and sanitary shelter for New Jerseyans displaced by the storm, and to help survivors across the state get started on their roads to recovery.
Working in pairs of two, more than 300 FEMA Community Relations teams spread out across the state, going door to door to offer help and information about the availability of emergency services in Spanish as well as 20 other languages spoken in New Jersey, including Vietnamese, Mandarin and Urdu.
FEMA workers addressed the immediate needs of disaster survivors as other agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Defense stepped in to assist survivors in taking the steps needed to assure long term recovery.
The storm also disrupted the business community, severely impacting small business owners whose commercial properties were damaged and suffered from the interruption in business operations.
Businesses in 113 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities lost more than $382 million in commercial property and an estimated $64 million in losses from the interruption of their businesses.
As the immediate response effort continued, the U.S. Small Business Administration got into gear to provide help to homeowners, renters and businesses who needed to repair and rebuild or replace personal property by providing low-interest loans to cover these major costs.
The National Flood Insurance Program deployed teams of inspectors to assess damage to flooded properties so that residents could recover and rebuild.
FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation specialists provided community outreach and education for survivors to inform and educate communities and individuals about their options in regard to protecting their properties from a future disaster.
Members of FEMA’s Environmental and Historic Preservation office worked with communities throughout the state to identify and assess properties damaged by the storm to ensure that rebuilding and remediation plans complied with environmental and historic requirements.
FEMA’s Private Sector representatives conducted outreach throughout the state to inform and educate small businesses, industry and nonprofits such as schools, colleges and medical facilities on ways to plan for business continuity and preparedness in advance of future disasters.
FEMA’s Public Assistance teams processed grant applications from municipal and county agencies and certain private nonprofits to reimburse them for emergency work made necessary by the storm, such as emergency debris removal as well as for permanent repair of facilities and equipment damaged or destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
Through its Recovery Tool Kit, available on the web at www.region2coastal.com, FEMA provided ready access to recovery resources designed for residential property owners and also for community officials. Through this constellation of resources, FEMA provided help to residents and business owners in New Jersey as they worked toward recovery, demonstrating the resiliency that residents of the Garden State are known for around the nation.
Though much remains to be done, New Jerseyans are moving forward with the continuing assistance of volunteers and the many agencies committed to assisting with the long-term recovery process.
Next, the One Year Later series continues with a look at the role of Public Assistance grants in recovery.
FEMA's mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
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