HARRISON TOWNSHIP — Gov. Phil Murphy toured the damage to dozens of homes from a massive tornado that ripped through the Mullica Hill section during the torrential rains of Ida.
At 6:22 p.m. Wednesday, radar confirmed a tornado over Mullica Hill. Several people captured photos of the menacing funnel cloud. The storm dropped 8 inches of rain through the middle of the state and spawned at least two powerful tornadoes in South Jersey.
Standing in front of ruined houses with Mayor Louis Manzo, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross and state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Murphy said the damage came from an "extraordinary, sadly tragic historic 24 hours in New Jersey."
Murphy said it will take some time for the affected neighborhoods to recover.
"We're gonna stay here and be by the side of the residents and the small businesses that have been impacted so severely. If you're a small business you're barely getting back on your feet from a pandemic and you get whacked by this and you ask yourself, life's not so fair sometimes,'" the governor said.
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Murphy said that FEMA will make a major disaster declaration on Thursday in order to assist homeowners and businesses with recovery.
Murphy also said that with increasingly violent storms affecting the state, investments must be made in resilient infrastructure. Before Ida, New Jersey had 10 confirmed tornadoes this year.
"Because that's exactly what you need when you're the most densely populated state in the nation, which is second to none. I think any amount of investment we can make in the years ahead in resilient infrastructure that will, please God, help us if we have to deal with things like this in the years ahead," Murphy said.
Sweeney blamed the strong storms on climate change and chided anyone who does denies it is real.
"Take a look at what's going on ... These things are getting stronger, there's more damage and we have to do something because it's too late now," Sweeney said.
Farms also damaged by tornado
Manzo said a nearby farming community was also heavily damaged by the tornado.
"They are the foundational pillar of where we are and they have been for generations," Manzo said. "Locally, the Grasso Family Farm was devastated. It's basically gone. Speaking with him at 11:30 p.m. he was devastated but he will rebuild. He had his farming family around him pledging their support to help him get through the rest of the season."
Manzo said the Eckes Dairy Farm, the largest in the state, also vowed to rebuild despite losing 100 of their 250 cows.
Murphy is scheduled to tour damage in Hillsborough Thursday afternoon. Two people died in separate incidents involving flood water during the storm.