Essex, Montclair officials to FEMA: We need this aid (UPDATED)
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
This story has been updated to include more information about community relief efforts and the state's portal for reporting damage.
Montclair officials and residents were holding out hope this week for inclusion in a Federal Emergency Management Agency declaration that could open up aid to residents and businesses hard-hit by Ida’s floodwaters.
Essex County had been passed over in a Monday morning declaration that included six other New Jersey counties — Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset — a move Mayor Sean Spiller said in a statement to the media left him “shocked and angry.” But he and other officials said it was possible Essex County would be included in an updated declaration.
Councilman Peter Yacobellis, in an email blast to constituents, urged them to report damage at nj.gov/ida, to make it more likely Essex would be considered for inclusion. The governor’s office said the portal would help “ensure that all Ida damages across all counties are evaluated for potential FEMA assistance.”
As of Tuesday, no updated major disaster declaration had been announced. But several other avenues for relief — many born out of the initiative of local community groups — emerged over the course of the week after the storm.
The major disaster declaration allows individuals and businesses in the selected areas that suffered losses to apply for federal aid. President Joe Biden last Thursday additionally issued an emergency declaration, making state and local governments in all of New Jersey's 21 counties eligible for federal reimbursement for disaster spending.
If Essex County is eventually included in a major disaster declaration, residents will be able to register for relief at disasterassistance.gov. Applicants can register for assistance for home repairs and temporary housing and apply for low-cost loans. Homeowners will need their insurance companies’ denials of coverage to complete applications.
“Given the devastation that our residents, businesses and township have experienced, it is impossible to comprehend how FEMA determined we would not be granted [assistance] from the federal government,” Spiller said in his statement.
Yacobellis, who had been visiting areas in Montclair affected by the storm, said given the impact on Montclair — 7.54 inches of rain that damaged school buildings, flooded basements and left many businesses with tens of thousands of dollars in damages — he was “pleading” with FEMA for the aid.
“The insurance marketplace has not caught up to climate change, and we still have a pandemic that people and businesses are trying to survive,” he said. “We need this aid."
Damage in Montclair
Homes, businesses and agencies throughout Montclair were immersed by rising waters.
Homes along Burnside Street, which is flood-prone, had several basements with floor-to-ceiling water and garages flooded out. At least one, maybe two cars were lost, Yacobellis said.
Residents along Woodmont Road and Yantacaw Brook said they also experience flooding on a regular basis, but Ida brought higher-than-usual floodwaters into their homes. Some residents on Cross Street off Orange Road had floor-to-ceiling flooding in their basements, just barely sparing first floors.
Businesses such as Samba, Mesob, Efi’s Gyro and The Wine Guys on Bloomfield Avenue between North Fullerton Avenue and Park Street, many of which stayed open to serve customers during the storm, were hit hard when SUV-high waters in the North Fullerton Avenue parking deck overflowed into their locations.
Chris Keim of Halcyon Brasserie on Walnut Street was standing partway out on the restaurant’s steps Tuesday morning. He said he had a lot of damage in the basement, primarily used for storage. The restaurant borders Toney’s Brook.
“We’ve seen bad floods here, but nothing like this,” Keim said.
Other businesses now recovering from Ida include Egan & Sons and The Max Challenge. Not-for-profits such as Studio Playhouse, the Montclair Orchestra, Montclair Film and the Human Needs Food Pantry suffered major damage as well.
Three of Montclair’s public schools — Montclair High School, Bradford Elementary School and Hillside Elementary School — suffered severe flooding, and a tree fell on Edgemont Montessori School. A leak damaged an electrical panel in the district’s Developmental Learning Center. Montclair Kimberley Academy also reported storm damage.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. issued a statement Monday saying he was “terribly disappointed” that FEMA did not include Essex County in that day’s major disaster declaration. Gov. Phil Murphy had declared a state of emergency for all New Jersey counties on Sept. 1.
“The tremendous losses by residents and business owners of Essex County should not be overlooked; we don’t deserve to be forgotten by FEMA,” DiVincenzo wrote.
Murphy’s press secretary, Alyana Alfaro Post, said that a major disaster declaration was requested for the entire state. She, too, stressed other counties might be covered by the declaration at a later date.
Montclair Fund for Ida Relief
A day after the storm, Yacobellis started what he’s called the “Montclair Fund for Ida Relief” — a fundraiser that has quickly grown. By early morning Sept. 2, it had raised more than $2,000. By Tuesday, it had raised more than $35,000. He partnered with Montclair Mutual Aid and the Montclair Foundation to oversee the funds.
The fund was supporting up to 28 $500 awards to residents who make less than $100,000 for debris removal and cleanup services. By Tuesday, Yacobellis said, 19 applications had been filed.
The fund was also supporting 14 $500 awards to low-income tenants who do not have rental insurance or have policies that don’t cover their losses. The awards were to cover the cost of replacing necessary personal property, defined by FEMA as items such as furniture, clothing and school supplies, among other things. As of Tuesday, about 10 applications had been filed for that relief.
Another $5,000 had been set aside for small business support, $3,000 for dumpster rentals, $2,250 for 10 1,500-square-foot-capacity dehumidifiers and $1,000 to support the Northeast Earth Coalition’s Little Free Pantry Program with food and personal hygiene supplies.
Links to applications were available from the blog page at Yacobellis’ campaign website, PeterforMontclair.com.
Little Free Food Pantries
The Northeast Earth Coalition encouraged more donations to its pantries in the aftermath of the storm.
The day following Ida, the Human Needs Food Pantry closed its building temporarily to assess storm damage, missing a normally scheduled food distribution for its hundreds of clients — though it was back for the next distribution on Tuesday. Toni’s Kitchen halts grocery distributions to its clients the week before Labor Day every year, executive director Anne Mernin said; instead, clients are given extra supplies the week prior to that.
Coalition founder Jose German-Gomez said he was hoping the pantries could help meet some additional needs while those other services weren’t available.
Those looking to donate food or to help with distributions can contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The same address can be used to request a new pantry for a location. Monetary donations can be made via the group’s website, at neearth.org/donation.
There are currently pantries at 40 South Fullerton Ave. (hosted by the First Congregational Church), 67 Church St. (hosted by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair), 86 Elm St. (hosted by Trina Paulus), 90 Broad St. in Bloomfield (hosted by the Bloomfield Public Library), and 65 Bowden Road in Cedar Grove, hosted by the Community Church of Cedar Grove.
Montclair Mutual Aid is organizing a neighbor-to-neighbor cleanup equipment lend.
It’ll try to match anyone who needs a fan, wet-vac, dehumidifier, mop, bucket or other equipment with a neighbor who can provide one.
Those interested can message the Montclair Mutual Aid Facebook group or use the form at tiny.one/MtcMA.
Grants for businesses
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority was expected Wednesday to vote on a $10 million program to support businesses and nonprofits with grants of $1,000 to $5,000. The grants would pay for reimbursement of an August rent or mortgage payment, and would be available to organizations with up to 50 employees that suffered physical damage in Ida and the subsequent floods. Landlords and home-based businesses would not be eligible.
— Includes reporting by Louis C. Hochman and Diego Jesus Bartesaghi Mena