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Waiting for Irene

Livingston sets up emergency shelters, asks residents with medical needs to call police as town prepares for storm.

We’re waiting for Irene. And Livingston has an idea of what to expect.

Detective Sgt. Anthony Dippold was working dispatch 12 years ago when Hurricane Floyd hit. He filled pages of a yellow legal pad, single spacing the emergencies as the 911 calls came flooding in. He only has to look back at the souvenir to remember what could – and most likely – will happen as the approaching Hurricane Irene threatens a repeat of 1999.

Heavy rains. Flooding. Damaging winds. Tumbling trees. Coastal flooding. Widespread outages. Irene “may have it all,” warns the state climatologist.

Livingston is setting up at the high school’s new gymnasium with room for 2,500 and back-up generator. Additional shelters will be opened as needed (without backup power) at the other public schools, Dippold said.

A real concern is helping residents with life-threatening medical needs. The township is urging residents to call the police department (973) 992-3000, ext. 0, by Saturday morning so police have a list ready of residents who might require a ride to Saint Barnabas Medical Center, either for regularly scheduled treatment or -- in the event power is lost -- to stay connected with their medical devices, Dippold said.

With rains starting late Saturday and continuing into Sunday, Hurricane Irene is expected to cause localized flooding. "What we have to do is assume the worst, prepare for that, and hope for the best," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters.

Dr. David A. Robinson, the , has been through this before. He headed off to a conference on drought and got back home only by hitching a ride on a FedEx truck when Floyd struck, triggering the worst flood in Raritan River history.

Drought’s not a problem this time around. We’ve experienced one of the , Robinson said. “With the wet ground we are primed for flooding and easier tree uprooting,” he said.

Irene is expected to strike the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to New England. “The potential is there for this to be one of the most devastating storms on record for the state,” Robinson said.

Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.com, said the New York metro area is expected to get six to 12 inches of rain and 40 to 50 mph sustained winds when the storm hits early Sunday. The National Weather Service is forecasting tropical storm conditions for Livingston. (See the local weather report here).

On Thursday, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm. Residents and tourists began evacuating from Jersey Shore towns. Colleges pushed back move-in days. And the state National Guard troops was placed on active duty to respond to trouble spots. (More information about safety precautions, evacuation routes and best practices is available @ ready.nj.gov).

In Livingston, Irene Smith, a 90-year-old resident Livingston, is getting ready to face her fierce namesake. And Livingston’s Irene is prepared.

“The weather people go nuts and then people panic. You can’t panic in a storm,” Mrs. Smith said. She’s lived in Livingston for more than 50 years -- through hurricanes, winter storms, and even a tornado or two. On Thursday she was at Kings, buying extra water, bread, and batteries. “You’ve got to be prepared!”

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said he's mobilized teams to assist the county's 22 municipalities. "This is all minute-by-minute, so we're carefully monitoring the situation and acting appropriately," he said.

The Codey Arena in West Orange will be used as an emergency shelter if needed, DiVincenzo said. The county park staff will be working together to remove downed trees from county roads.

With Floyd, rain pounded the area with eight inches falling in 25 hours. With the ground saturated and ponds in the reservation and both branches of the Rahway River overflowing, there was flash flooding. . In Livingston, Dippold -- and five other dispatchers -- struggled to keep up with the calls for flooding, medical emergencies and downed trees.

This weekend, police plan to sleep on cots in the Livingston station. Auxiliary officers will also be working. They're bringing in food and other supplies, and keeping an eye on NOAA's National Weather Service.

Livingston residents are asked to call (973) 992-3000, ext. 0 (zero) for all non-emergencies, and 911 for emergencies. The Fire Department will respond to calls to pump out high water or flooding near electric outlets, Dippold said. Other numbers to have handy:

  • PSE&G - Downed power lines, gas leaks and other urgent, safety related requests. Available 24 hours / 7days: 1-800-436-PSEG (7734)
  • Phone service or FIOS television, call Verizon: 1-800-837-4966
  • Cable TV service, Cablevision: 866-633-0193

John Sitnik, head of Adult Services at Livingston Library, contributed sites for those interested in tracking the storm:

The librarian also shared New Jersey’s state plan for dealing with pets in a disaster.  It was formulated after Katrina, when so many pets were lost or their owner had to leave them behind. http://www.state.nj.us/njoem/plan/pets-shelters.html

Joshua Wilwohl and L. Klonsky contributed reporting.

Robert Stern August 26, 2011 at 12:55 PM
"Better Safe Than Sorry" Things to do around your home; * Patio and backyard furniture tie down or put inside * Garbage cans place inside * Make sure debris and other things loose are taken care of. Remember your things can affect other homes too. Check on neighbors, if away or need assistance. Batteries Flashlights, candles Water First Aid Kit Battery operated Radio Please keep all this in mind.

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