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HILLSBOROUGH: First responders step up in dual storms

Winter proved it would not go quietly earlier this month, as a pair of nor’easters coated the area with snow and gusting winds that snarled travel and prompted Gov. Phil Murphy to declare a state of emergency.

Winter Storm Riley on Friday, March 2 and Winter Storm Quinn on Wednesday, March 7, brought down trees and utility lines, causing problems for residents, emergency personnel, law enforcement and utility providers.

While the storms called for a heightened response from first responders and law enforcement throughout the state, Lt. Mike McMahon of the Hillsborough Township Police Department said officials were prepared.

“We are very experienced in dealing with storm related issues such as these and I would not say these storms were any more challenging for us than previous storms,” he said. “The police department had extra officers working during these times to assist with responding to calls, closing roads and placing out barricades.”

According to McMahon, police responded to 24 condition notifications relating to the first storm between March 1 and March 3. In each of those instances, he said the calls could have been “anything from trees down or on wires, wires down, low hanging wires or flooded roadways.” In some of those more common calls, the lieutenant said conditions caused short- and long-term road closures.

During that time, he also reported five disabled motor vehicle calls and four motor vehicle accidents, though he said it was not clear whether the storm had any impact on those calls.

For the second storm, between March 6 and March 8, McMahon said the number of condition notifications that the department received was more than double, with 53 such calls.

In contrast with the first storm, he cited 16 disabled vehicles calls, “which would be stuck vehicles or [ones that] slid off the road due to snow.” There were also 10 crashes during that time, which he said make it easy to assume that “some, if not most, of these were storm related.”

Along with law enforcement, Hillsborough Township Chief Fire Marshal Christopher Weniger said all three firehouses were active with full crews on hand to respond to any issues that came up.

During the first storm, Weniger said the district responded to nine calls. Days later, the fire district responded to 12 calls. From 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on March 7, the Neshanic firehouse was also ready to respond with the township’s three firehouses, according to Weniger.

Most of the calls for support from the fire district came in the form of downed tree and power line reports from residents, the chief said. Some instances also included requests from Robert Wood Johnson EMS to assist with getting to and carrying patients through the snow.

“The second storm was more challenging due to the amount of snow that fell in a short time period,” Weniger said. “This made responding very difficult.”

As for Robert Wood Johnson’s EMS coverage during the storm, a spokesman with the company said there were 21 calls for service during the March 7 storm in Hillsborough and 77 calls throughout the Somerset County area.

And while a vast majority of residents throughout the county were largely back to normal by this Monday, there were some residents in Hillsborough and the surrounding area that were left without power.

Damaged utility lines from the two storms caused long-term power outages for more than 20,000 Jersey Central Power & Light customers. By Tuesday morning, many were left without electricity. Most who lost power during the first storm were restored by late Monday night.

The utility company said it employed more than 6,200 workers, which it called a “small army,” to address the storm’s impact on the electrical grid. More than 700 poles and 1,800 spans of wire were replaced and more than 2,300 roads closed by downed trees and wires were reportedly opened as a result of the utility’s efforts.

“Our JCP&L personnel and outside line crews have been working 16-hour days to safely restore power since the storms hit the region and will continue to do so until the job is finished,” Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L, said in a statement Monday.

Despite the utility’s efforts, Murphy said Saturday that JCP&L’s response to the storm was “embarrassing and unacceptable.”

“As I have said throughout the week, JCP&L’s preparation for and response to the past week’s weather events is completely unacceptable,” Murphy said. “I will not accept any of the company’s excuses for why thousands of New Jerseyans continue to be without power. I am prepared to use all the authority at my disposal to get power restored.”

Residents were still without power by Tuesday, but the company reported there were no more significant storm-related outages by the following day.

The governor has since called for an investigation from the state’s Board of Public Utilities into the utility’s preparedness and response to the storms.

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