Lawrence Township residents should “shelter in place” and remain in the safety of their homes through Hurricane Irene, township emergency officials said today (Saturday, Aug. 27).
Evacuations will only be done if absolutely necessary in cases where it is not safe for residents to remain in their homes. The loss of electrical service, by itself, does not mean a residence is unsafe and that occupants will be evacuated.
The township’s three firehouses will be used as initial gathering places for displaced residents. Officials stressed, however, that the firehouses are not equipped to feed or house evacuees overnight. If long-term sheltering – including food and cots for sleeping – becomes necessary, displaced residents will be transported via bus to one of the regional emergency shelters that the American Red Cross will be setting up, officials said.
On Friday, Mercer County officials said that county residents who are evacuated from their homes during the storm could go to the West Trenton Volunteer Fire Co. firehouse in Ewing Township. But officials today clarified that statement by saying that the West Trenton firehouse will only be used as a shelter for Ewing Township residents. “In other parts of the county, people should go where local law enforcement instructs them to go,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said.
The Sun National Bank Center arena in Trenton was used as an initial processing point for people displaced from Atlantic County and other parts of the state. The arena is not being used as a local shelter.
“Residents should not go to Sun National Bank Center,” Hughes said. “If ordered to evacuate, people in the City of Trenton will be instructed as to which location they should go. Mercer County residents are being told to shelter in their homes unless ordered to evacuate by law enforcement personnel or in case of extreme emergency.”
In Lawrence Township, the Sleep-E-Hollow motel and the Mount’s Motel on Brunswick Pike (Route 1), near Bakers Basin Road, were being evacuated as a precaution today and occupants were being relocated to other local motels, officials said. In September 1999, during Hurricane Floyd, that area of town experienced significant flooding and volunteer firefighters had to rescue several people from the motels.
The township police department will have extra command staff, patrol officers and 911 operators on duty during the storm. For police responses, the township is being divided into north and south zones, with Interstate 95 as the dividing line. Each zone will have a full complement of officers and commanders to respond to emergencies, officials said.
Two township ambulance crews will be on duty, with one stationed at the Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Co. firehouse in the northern half of town and the other at the Lawrence Township Emergency Medical Service station on Pilla Avenue in the southern half of town.
The township plans to open its Office of Emergency Management command center at the police station at 2 a.m. tomorrow. All emergency responses in the township will be coordinated by township OEM personnel.
The township’s four career firefighters have been ordered to report for duty at 6 a.m. tomorrow to help bolster the ranks of the township’s three volunteer fire companies.
Volunteers for the Slackwood, Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville fire companies, meanwhile, will report to their respective firehouses beginning at 9 o’clock tonight. Volunteers were instructed to bring sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses and multiple changes of clothes with them, and plan to remain on duty for as long as 24 hours.
On Friday, after Mayor Greg Puliti declared a municipal state of emergency for Lawrence Township, who could respond to emergencies in town. The difficulty, they noted, is that many township volunteer firefighters work full-time in emergency response or law enforcement positions in other municipalities and, under the terms of their employment, will be committed to those full-time jobs during the storm.
The volunteer firefighters will have two boat teams – made up of personnel with special training in water rescue – available to respond to emergencies in flood areas.
Officials said all emergency calls during the storm will be triaged, with priority given to those where lives are in danger.
At no time during the storm, they said, will firefighters’ lives be risked to pump water from flooded basements. In cases where rising water threatens a home’s utilities, they will turn off the electric and natural gas supplies to make the scene safe.
Furthermore, officials said, no firefighters or other emergency responders will be out in the storm if sustained winds exceed 50 mph. The state has ordered that all first responders immediately return to the safety of their stations – even if they are in the midst of trying to rescue someone – as soon as the sustained wind level remains above 50 mph, officials said.
Barricades have been pre-deployed to roads in the township that are prone to flooding.
Township public works personnel will be on duty to cut and remove trees from roads, however public works and emergency crews will not be able to cut up trees that fall on houses unless someone is trapped or there is some other immediate life-safety hazard, officials said.
While Hurricane Irene has downgraded to a Category 1 storm, Gov. Chris Christie said in his 2 p.m. preparedness briefing that decreasing wind speeds by 10-15 mph "will make little difference to the folks here in New Jersey."
So far, more than 90 percent of the residents in Long Beach Island, Cape May and Atlantic counties have been evacuated. The concern as of this afternoon is Atlantic City and Christie said the New Jersey State Police and New Jersey Transit are sending additional buses to accelerate and complete the evacuation process.
"I can't make you leave your home and I am certainly not going to place you under arrest to make you leave," Christie said. "Let us take you downstairs to one of these buses. … If you stay where you are now, you are placing yourself in greater danger."
Christie said shelters should be the last resort for housing.
Patch reporter Liz Mitchell contributed to this report.
Lawrence Township has posted the following information about the storm on its website.
INDIVIDUALS WITH LIFE-SUSTAINING EQUIPMENT
Individuals who rely on life-sustaining equipment that operates off of electricity, such as a respirator or dialysis machine, should pre-register with PSE&G to receive priority attention in the event of a loss of power. To request the service, call PSE&G at 1-800-436-PSEG (7734). As electric service restoration cannot be guaranteed emergency back-up equipment should be arranged to have available.
IF YOU LOSE POWER
First check your neighborhood. If you are the only one without power, check your fuse box for tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses. If that's not the problem, look outside at the wire between your house and the utility pole. If it is down, STAY AWAY FROM ALL DOWNED LINES, report the problem to PSE&G at 1-800-436-7734. Do not approach or drive over a downed line and do not touch anything in contact with a wire. All downed lines should be considered as live.
Individuals and families should be prepared to remain in their residences for a minimum of 48 hours in the event of a loss of power. General supplies should include water, food that may be prepared without the use of electrical equipment, medications, infant supplies, first-aid supplies, toiletries. A comprehensive listing can be viewed at the website of the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, www.ready.nj.gov.
In the event it is necessary to initiate an evacuation Lawrence Township has destinations where individuals can be relocated for safety. Those locations are known, but would be announced as conditions dictate. A pre-announced location may not be available during an actual emergency. If extended sheltering services are required, arrangements will be made with the American Red Cross for shelter locations and operations. Pets are prohibited at all shelter locations and pet owners need to make prior arrangements for care.
For any emergency event please call 911.
Beginning at 6 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28, non-emergency inquires may be made to 609-896-0225.
Registration for Reverse 911 calling or email notifications may be completed at www.lawrencetwp.com.
Check in on elderly neighbors or those in need of assistance prior to and after the storm event.
Please assist with clearing storm drain grates of debris near your property prior to the storm event for proper drainage of storm runoff.
The Monday, Aug. 29, 2011 sessions of the Lawrence Township Municipal Courts are cancelled. Notices will be mailed regarding a new court date.
A decision on municipal trash collection services for Monday, Aug. 29, cannot be determined until late Sunday.