Middlesex County snowfall totals staggering

Eric Sucar
Sledders of all ages enjoy rides down the sledding hill at Holmdel Park on January 27. Children of all ages took advantage of the fresh snow left over from the year's first major snowstorm.

Staff Writer

MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Towns in Middlesex County fared well for the most part during Winter Storm Jonas, which dropped upwards of 20-plus inches of snow and brought heavy winds to the area over the weekend.

“There were a couple of factors that helped, including that it happened on the weekend and most people were home, which kept emergency calls to a minimum and allowed our Public Works to do their job with little interference,” said Wayne Hamilton, business administrator in Monroe.

Out of the totals gathered throughout the county, Helmetta’s snow totals were estimated between 28 and 30 inches, Metuchen received 27.8 inches, Edison received 27 inches, Woodbridge, 28 inches, South Brunswick, South River and East Brunswick recorded 24 inches of snow, Monroe received 23 inches, North Brunswick’s snow fall totals are estimated between 20 and 22 inches, and Old Bridge’s snow totals were estimated between 18 and 20 inches.

Monroe Mayor Gerald Tamburro said the township managed well despite the intense snowfall. He said all involved worked two 12-hour shifts.

“As of Monday there were three emergency calls … one where a truck went off road,” he said.

Metuchen Police Sgt. Arthur Flaherty, who is also the borough’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator, said the borough saw a couple of accidents.

“A woman’s car got stuck under the Grove Avenue Bridge,” he said. “She was suffering from chest pains and the Department of Public Works’ front end loader was used to move her car and bring it up the hill toward the EMS (Emergency Medical Service) truck, which could not get to her.”

Flaherty said the Department of Public Works (DPW) ran into issues with its smaller trucks attempting to clear the side roads.

“Those trucks carrying sand would pick up the snow, but constantly get stuck,” he said adding that the department’s front end loader would have to help pull the trucks out. “The snow was so deep. It was crazy.”

Flaherty said the borough was able to utilize other DPW trucks and backhoes in clearing out the snow; however, not curb to curb.

“On Sunday, the issue was parked cars and snow going back onto the roads,” he said.

Flaherty said as of Monday the borough was slowly getting back to normal with residents and businesses clearing sidewalks.

“The ordinance requires the sidewalks to be cleared within 24 hours,” he said. “We hope calling off school [on Jan. 25], it would give people enough time to clear them.”

Flaherty also said portions of Main Street were closed off during the evening hours of Jan. 25 and 26, so DPW crews could pick up the piles of snow on downtown Main Street and dump it behind the tennis courts on Grove Avenue.

Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry said with advanced warning of the storm, the township’s DPW and Parks and Recreation were prepared to remove snow.

“We had a pre-storm meeting with everyone involved,” he said, adding that a shelter was set up at the Municipal Building for the storm, which did not see any residents.

“We were ready for flooding in the Laurence Harbor section of the township, which we were fortunate that we did not see,” he said. “We remember the storm of 1996, which took us five days to dig out.”

Henry, who was helping clear roads at 4 a.m. Sunday, said he was happy with everyone’s “herculean effort” from township employees, contractors and the community as a whole.

“When I would receive a concern about plowing, I would reach out to the DPW and within an hour I would get an email thanking our effort,” he said.

Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek said an emergency preparedness meeting was held the morning of Jan. 22 and a dedicated team was out on the roads from 9 p.m. Friday until Sunday.

“I took three tours with the police during the storm and I saw people helping each other push cars, people chatting with one another and kids in waist-deep high snow building snowmen making for that small town feel,” he said.

Slavicek said he announced a snowman-building contest after the storm, which saw over 20 entries, including the police department.

The mayor said the borough did not experience any power outages and, as of Monday, the DPW was working on heavy snow removal and people were working on clearing sidewalks.

In South Brunswick, there were 35 crews able to plow the 193 miles of township roads from 2 a.m. Saturday to 2 p.m. Sunday, according to township officials.

According to the East Brunswick Police Department, low hanging wires on a portion of Route 18 between Cranbury Road and Milltown Road caused a closure on both sides Sunday morning.

Police Lt. Kevin Zebro, public information officer for the department, said over the weekend there had been a couple of people slipping and falling in the snow as well as a few vehicles trapped because of the snow.

Township Councilwoman Denise Contrino took to Facebook to inform residents about the town’s plowing efforts.

“Many local roads look as if they have not yet been plowed. They have, but DPW was not able to keep up with the pace of the storm with available manpower and equipment. Best case for local and side roads reaching some degree of normalcy, dinner time or later,” she posted Sunday morning.

As of Monday, DPW crews were still cleaning some streets in town, but all the streets were reported passable, Zebro said.

In South River, Borough Administrator Frederick Carr said that as of Monday afternoon every street in town was plowed and the borough is currently  “in the snow removal discussion.”

According to Carr, plows had been working Saturday and Sunday to keep up with the blizzard conditions. “You have to get the roads clear for emergency vehicles to get through,” he said.

Mark Cafferty, North Brunswick Office of Emergency Coordinator, said the township was well prepared for the storm.

“We did what we had to do to protect the residents of the township,” he said.

South Amboy Mayor Fred Henry said the city luckily had no power outages or flooding issues. Henry was out with Superintendent of Public Works Len Moffa, observing the cleanup of the two feet of snow that fell in a day’s time.

“I was very pleased in seeing how our city streets were being cleaned,” he said.

He said he also toured the city with Police Chief Darren LaVigne, “and again, the streets were being cleaned as best as possible in such terrible conditions.” He commended the city employees and emergency responders.

Some South Amboy residents commended the city’s efforts while others thought street cleaning could have been better.

Resident Chrissy Cislo, who lives off Broadway, said some streets were better than others when it came to being cleared, but Broadway needed to be clearer than it was as of Monday night.

South Amboy resident Misty Brexel on Henry Street said she spent most of the weekend shoveling out. She said one of her concerns was preserving the street parking spaces she cleared for the four cars in her family.

She praised the city’s response to the storm. “The city employees did a very good job on our street and actually gave me help on Sunday by pushing a large pile out of the  way.”

Amy Charmello’s experience was not as positive as some of her neighbors. On her street, Connors Drive, she said a plow came by on Saturday but never returned

In North Brunswick, police officers manned shovels and helped dig out a distraught resident’s driveway. The resident needed to get to a family member, who was suffering from a medical emergency, according to police.

Edison Township faced a number of challenges during the weekend.

The storm was quite the obstacle to those who needed medical assistance. The township had 16 guardsmen and five military Humvees from the National Guard 102nd Cavalry from East Orange help get residents from their home to an ambulance and transport people directly to JFK Medical Center, according to emergency management coordinator Andy Toth in a prepared statement from the township.

Toth and business administrator Maureen Ruane spearheaded the cleanup efforts.

“Our DPW employees worked tirelessly throughout Saturday to plow and clear Edison’s major arteries first,” Ruane said in the statement. “But the snow came so fast and furiously that 20 minutes after our plows did their job, those streets were full again. The heavy snowfall and wind worked against us.” Toth said public works crews faced limited visibility as they plowed township streets.

According to the township, new Councilman Leonard Sendelsky rode with Toth for a few hours on Saturday, commenting that the public works crews “did a phenomenal job in the face of one of the worst storms I ever saw.”

“Visibility was near zero most of the time. Plowing got done with great difficulty. I saw an ambulance get stuck and need help from the fire department to get moving again,” Sendelsky said. “It was a tough, tough day for everyone in our town.”

Ruane said secondary and side streets were plowed on Sunday.

However, there were some residents on Monday morning who said they had not been plowed out.

Rajaraman Nagarajan, who lives on Heritage Drive, said he had to work from home on Monday because his street had not been plowed. He also said he has not been able to get to the pharmacy to pick up medication. He said he has called the clerk’s office, the police and the DPW to try to find out when the street might be addressed.

“We feel frustrated as there is no communication from the mayor or township,” he said. “They call to let us know schools are closed, but do not tell us about the snow plows.”

Resident Arpan Patel, who lives on Patriot Court, said Monday that his street also had not been plowed. He said he couldn’t go to work Monday.

He said he called the police five times and also placed a call to the mayor’s office. He said someone in the office told him that his street would be done by 6 p.m.

In response to the concerns of residents, Ruane said she believed Edison’s response was “amazing,” noting that the public works crews worked 22 straight hours, braving treacherous roads, often in a blinding, wind-driven snow that cut visibility to less than 12 feet in front of their trucks.

“With over 300 linear miles of streets to plow, Edison Township must prioritize its response, especially during such a significant snowstorm,” Ruane explained. “Our larger, longer and more heavily traveled streets must be plowed first, then neighborhood streets, and finally smaller side streets and cul-de-sacs.”

“Right now, we are grappling with the question of where to put all the snow. High piles of snow can be obstructions for motorists, especially near intersections,” said Ruane, who advised drivers to use “the utmost caution.”

“Clearing our municipal streets during an ordinary 6- to 10-inch snowfall is a manageable task, but this was no ordinary snowstorm,” Ruane said. “I hope our residents clearly recognize that fact and show patience and understanding.”

Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac said the town was very well prepared for the storm. The snowfall exceeded expectations. The mayor said township residents were lucky in that there were no power outages or flooding.
One Public Works employee was hurt in the storm cleanup. The mayor said he was treated and released from an area hospital.

Staff writer Michael Nunes and correspondent Jacqueline Durett contributed to this report.

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