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Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Where to Go If Hurricanes Blow? Lack of Shelters, Too Few Buses


By Jack Fichter

CREST HAVEN — Cape May County has no hurricane shelters. Everyone must evacuate, even in a Category 1 storm. It is possible two evacuation routes may be under water and there is inadequate public transportation to evacuate seniors and the disabled.
It would take 36 hours to evacuate the county during the summer tourist season and emergency management here is dependent upon getting 36 hours notice of a hurricane’s landfall from the National Hurricane Center, Miami, Fla. although their standard is issuing warnings 24 hours before landfall (See accompanying sidebar).
Cape May County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall told the Herald the southern portion of the U.S. gets earlier advance warning of hurricane landfalls than this county. He said four days notice was given to residents for Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
“Here, we don’t have that kind of notice,” said McCall. “Take a look and see where (Hurricane) Bill or (Tropical Storm) Danny was four days in advance of their paralleling New Jersey.”
At four days away from their pass by New Jersey, both were still in the Caribbean.
Reversing traffic lanes, so all traffic is leaving the county, is by order of the governor in an evacuation proclamation. The traffic reversal needs run for 20 to 24 hours in advance of tropical force winds during daylight hours, said McCall.
As an example, if tropical storm force winds were expected on a Friday, the governor would need to declare an evacuation of the county Tuesday night or no later than Wednesday morning, he said.
McCall said there isn’t much time for miscalculation or error.
“When somebody stands up and says we have to evacuate Cape May County, people have got to move in a hurry, and they should have all their preplanning done in advance of that,” he said.
McCall said a 1992 New Jersey Hurricane Evacuation Study, formulated by the State Police Office of Emergency Management, FEMA Region Two, National Weather Service and U.S Army Corps of Engineers, stated the county would have no shelters because a large percentage of the county is potentially vulnerable to coastal flooding from hurricanes.
It said no buildings in the county were found to be in conformance with American Red Cross Hurricane Shelter Guidelines regarding susceptibility to high winds and flooding.
McCall said the county could use some facilities as evacuation staging areas.
“The only thing that’s changed since 1992 is we have gotten more population and the study does not take into consideration rainfall and wind shear,” he said.
To order an evacuation of the county, a hurricane would need to be forecast to make landfall between somewhere between Rehoboth Beach, Del. or Ocean City, Md. to the south and as far north as Tom’s River and Asbury Park, said McCall. He said most years, hurricanes parallel New Jersey but do not make landfall.
The county would be evacuated even in a Category 1 hurricane, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Such a storm has sustained winds 74 to 95 mph. McCall said during a full moon, the high tide here would be 5.3 feet.
A direct hit of a hurricane brings with it an approximate storm surge of 8.7 feet, he said. Adding together a 5.3 feet tide plus 8.7 from a hurricane and the tide is about 13 feet. McCall said that does not include the fetch, which is the amount of water that gets deposited on top of the normal high tide before the storm surge. During Hurricane Bill two weeks ago, the county had a fetch 2 feet above normal.
Tides could rise to 15 to 18 feet, he said. He said the average home, if one has a second floor, may be 19 feet high.
A big problem for the county, many of the evacuation routes may be under water, said McCall, both Garden State Parkway and Route 47.
Still to be considered: the amount of rainfall. McCall said Hurricane Bill and Tropical Storm Danny, which stayed 150 miles offshore, produced torrential rains with street flooding in this county.
“The rain goes on top of the surge and fetch activity,” he said.
In addition, power outages would occur with sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph, said McCall. With a direct hit of a hurricane in the Rehoboth Beach to Toms River corridor, electricity could be off for a week, he said.
There would be no power, no water, no sewer, no access to anything, said McCall.
What about senior citizens who do not drive or those with health problems? How do they evacuate when the order comes? McCall said those with special needs should register with their local police department and the state Special Needs Registry by dialing simply 2-1-1 or using the Web site:
McCall said his office notified the state police it needs 400 buses to evacuate about 16,000 residents who do not have transportation. He said school buses are not available for that purpose.
In the early 1990s, during a threat of a hurricane, McCall ordered 400 buses from New Jersey Transit and was told the service only had 187 buses in their fleet and would not release buses south of the Raritan River.
McCall said NJ Transit offered Cape May County only four buses.
“We just don’t have the resources here in Cape May County,” he said.
McCall said he has explained the situation to the state, FEMA, and the Department of Homeland Security and EMAC, the Emergency Management Assistance Coalition. EMAC provides resources from other states.
A resident called the Herald suggesting the county’s Crest Haven complex be used for shelters. McCall said everything east of the parkway would be under water in a Category 1 hurricane. The county zoo, nursing home, and jail would be evacuated.
McCall said residents should plan to stay with family members located in other cities when possible, noting many residents here are from Philadelphia. He said he worked with Verizon to publish emergency evacuation instructions on page 20 of the telephone book.
McCall endorses the extension of Route 55 as an escape route and overpasses planned for intersections on the Garden State Parkway.
“I can’t believe we haven’t heard a cry from the public over the infrastructure knowing Route 47 goes underwater at times, knowing that the parkway gets crowded even on Sunday night or Saturday morning…” he said.
The infrastructure of Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties needs to be improved, he said.
The county Board of Chosen Freeholders holds its annual Hurricane Preparedness Conference, Sept. 22 at 10 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 4 Moore Road, Crest Haven. Participants will include Sen. Jeff Van Drew, Richard L. Canas, director of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Michael F. Moriarty, acting director, FEMA Region II.

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