NJ volunteers ready to help with Irma — Some are there already
TRENTON — New Jersey is standing by to help with the recovery and power restoration in Florida and the southeast following the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.
The New Jersey Office of Emergency Management's Task Force 1 arrived at Eglin Air Force Base on the western Florida panhandle and awaits its first assignment with teams brought in from other states.
"It's not unusual. What's happening now is that the local, state and county officials are going from south to north assessing the damage and the need. They'll give that situational awareness to the federal level and where they'll decide what their their assignment's going to be," OEM spokeswoman Laura Connolly told New Jersey 101.5.
Connolly said the convoy was put in a hanger and Eglin is far enough west to avoid the worst of the damage inflicted by Irma's tear across Florida.
New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said as of 8 a.m. Monday, Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm, with sustained winds down to 70 mph.
"As the storm continues to move farther inland, it will move away from its warm, moist fuel source of the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "That means it will disintegrate rapidly, and should become post-tropical in the next 24 to 36 hours. Having said that, 70 mph sustained winds are still incredibly fierce, and I suspect the power outage numbers will continue to grow in northern Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama. Heavy rain will continue to cause flash flooding issues — that's going to continue to make travel difficult for everyone along Irma's path."
The 253rd Transportation Company of the NJ Army National Guard arrived in Florida on Monday morning at Flagler County Airport just north of Daytona, according to spokesman Kryn Westhoven.
"From there they will get instruction from the Florida Guard and civil authorities as to what they will be doing," Westhoven said.
The New Jersey Chapter of the American Red Cross has 35 volunteers and staff working as evacuation centers in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
"The majority are always volunteers but in disasters this size there's definately staff that will be pulled to help with the operation," Red Cross spokeswoman Diane Concannon said.
An emergency response vehicle from New Jersey will deliver meals, water and relief supplies to neighborhoods near Orlando once it's safe, according to Concannon.
Concannon said NJ's executive director Ana Montero, who went to Puerto Rico to help her friend who heads up their Red Cross chapter, is now in the Dominincan Republic helping with relief.
"It's difficult for us to get in touch with her. I do get a text here and there. It's a difficult responsibility but she's hanging in. Seeing all that devastation is pretty difficult but knowing Ana she's kicking in and doing her best to help people that have been affected there," Concannon said.
An army of utility workers is also on their way down south from PSE&G, JCP&L and Atlantic City Electric to restore power to more than 6.2 million customers.
Eighty JCP&L workers from New Jersey left Lakewood on Saturday to join 900 linemen, damage assessors, contractors, forestry crews and support personnel from parent company FIrstEnergy, according to spokesman Ron Morano.
"Additional employees may be deployed as well," said Morano.
154 JCP&L employees will arrive at a staging area Lake City, Florida on Monday to possibly begin work on Tuesday with restoration.
Are you or you friends or family affected by Irma? Contact reporter Dan Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org.