VINELAND, NJ - Governments and area public utilities began implementing emergency plans on Friday in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy landing in this area within the next 24 to 48 hours.
A statement from Cumberland County Friday night said county and municipal officials are "strongly recommending evacuations for residents along the Delaware Bay." The area includes Greenwich and Fairfield townships, the area southwest of Route 553 in Lawrence, Downe and Commercial townships, the area southwest of Route 47 in Maurice River Township, and south of Bricksboro.
Public works departments and utilities on Friday were scheduling extra staff and notifying contractors, checking equipment availability and selecting evacuation centers. Police and fire departments also were making staffing changes for the storm's arrival.
In Millville, county and city officials said state government reversed a decision from Thursday not to release water from area dams in order to increase capacity. The decision to lower water levels was made Friday and started immediately. The affected dams include state-owned Union Lake Dam, the largest body of water in South Jersey.
In Vineland, Office of Emergency Management Coordinator Robert Pagnini said the city's engineering office checked on conditions of ponds at Giampietro Park and Burnt Mill.
Pagnini said Burnt Mill Pond, which has been drained since fall 2011 due to dam damage, remains empty but Giampietro Park Pond was higher than expected. Someone had added boards to increase the height of its dam. The boards were removed and the water level is down where the city wants it, he said.
Pagnini said the city also had asked county officials to request that more gates be opened at Union Lake. The level of the Maurice River and Union Lake both affect drainage in Vineland, he said.
Hurricane Sandy was off the coast of Florida on Friday night, and the National Weather Service was stressing the storm is too complex to reliably predict where it will be in two days. There is a chance the storm will not have a major impact here.
In the worst case, meterologist Mark DeLisi said, this area could see gusts of 50 mph by the end of Sunday night. Winds would grow worse Monday night and Tuesday.
However, area emergency management offices are urging residents to plan for the worst and to buy or store enough water, food and other goods to last for several days.
County and local emergency management staffs begin reporting Sunday morning, though not all will be fully manned until Monday. Decisions on closing schools and other services are expected to be made Sunday afternoon.
Cumberland County and municipal agencies held a teleconference Friday afternoon to discuss the storm's approach and compare readiness.
"It looks like (the storm arrives) anywhere from Sunday evening well into Tuesday evening," Millville Emergency Management Coordinator Sherman Taylor said afterward. "We're going to start seeing the winds from the outer bands sometime Sunday night. They are expecting anywhere from 3 to 10 inches of rain or more."
Taylor said stockpiling food and water and other supplies is important because it will take an unknown amount of time to assess what repairs are needed.In Vineland, Mayor Robert Romano expects to sign a declaration of emergency Sunday afternoon. The city's emergency officials meet at 3 p.m. to update preparations.
"We are praying that this storm changes direction and heads out to sea but preliminary reports say the storm is headed our way," Romano said. "In anticipation of this hurricane, we are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our citizens. We ask the citizens of Vineland to adhere to all the safety preparedness rules provided."
Romano said the the state Department of Environmental Protection is easing off its normal permitting requirements to allow emergency work on drainage issues. Around the city and county, crews were clearing leaves and debris from drainage systems.
One shelter for evacuees is set up at Cumberland County College with support from the American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Three Vineland public schools are available as shelters, if more space is necessary.
"This storm is much different from the unexpected derecho storm that hit our area in late June," said Joseph Isabella, director of the Vineland Municipal Electric Utility.
"We have time to prepare and we are making sure we have the manpower and are well equipped to restore service to our customers as soon as we possibly can," Isabella said. "With hurricane force winds expected, our top priorities will be public safety, essential services and the safety of our personnel."
Romano said the VMEU has at least four contractors available as needed. "The director has canceled all vacations," he added.
Pagnini said the city has some bottled water on hand for emergency use and some ice. He said residents, especially those with wells, should have available one gallon of water per person, per day.
Pagnini said the city is ready to use its reverse 9-1-1 telephone system if necessary, but he urged residents to use websites for information.
Taylor said Millville is encouraging residents to "shelter in place" and not to evacuate unless ordered. "Millville doesn't have any flood-prone areas that would need that," he said.
Taylor said the public school system should announce Sunday whether it will be open on Monday,
Sometime today, the New Jersey State Police Marine Unit in Bivalve is expected to move at least one boat and possibly two into Millville for safety.
Atlantic City Electric spokesman Frank Tedesco said the utility, which covers all of Cumberland County except for Vineland, said it has contracted for crews to come in from outside the area to augment its own people.
Tedesco said ACE's storm plan is activated and staff are on notice to report as pre-planned. He urged residents to avoid downed electrical wires and to follow manufacturer recommendations on generators.
In Millville, Taylor said the city OEM office will open Sunday morning with a minimal staff and not be fully staffed until Monday. The office is on the second floor of the fire station on Buck Street.
In Rosenhayn, the county OEM opens with partial staff at 8 a.m. Sunday and will be fully manned at 6 p.m. Sunday.
New Jersey plans a partial evacuation of Southern State Prison in Delmont. Some prisoners there live in trailers and the area is vulnerable to floods. The prison also was evacuated durring Hurricane Irene in 2011.