October snowstorm gives N.J. a 'white Halloween'
Published: Monday, October 31, 2011, 6:00 AM Updated: Monday, October 31, 2011, 7:11 AM
STATEWIDE —After a record October snowstorm that left at least two dead over the weekend, New Jersey is waking up to a white Halloween, with icy roads littered with downed trees and power lines, and heat and electricity still out for thousands.
Two NJ Transit lines are still shut down today, many schools are closed and State Police urge caution on the roads.
In Madison, the volunteer ambulance — which has a generator — set up an emergency shelter.
"I was so cold last night I had to have five blankets on me," Gerri Giordano said Sunday of Saturday night. "You could see your breath in the house it was so cold."
Linda Augustine, another Madison resident, said, "I woke up and it was all dark and the house was freezing. When we took the ride here, it was like a surrealistic science fiction landscape because power lines were down and trees were down."
Other shelters were set up at West Orange High School, Belleville Middle School, the South Orange Library, Glen Ridge Community Center, Bloomfield Civic Center and the Cedar Grove First Aid Squad, among other locations.
On Saturday, the freak nor’easter dumped as much as 19 inches of snow on parts of New Jersey, the most ever for the month of October since recordkeeping for the state began in 1895, said David Robinson, the state climatologist at Rutgers.
"No question that this is the largest October snowstorm on record in New Jersey," Robinson said Sunday.
The unusually early snowstorm arrived just two months after the devastating floods from Hurricane Irene, and seemed as bizarre as the earthquake that shook New Jersey a few days before that.
The storm’s heavy, wet snow stuck to leaves that hadn’t yet fallen from the trees, bending and breaking limbs or whole trunks that fell atop cars or utility lines. More than 600,000 households remained without power Sunday, including Gov. Chris Christie in Mendham.
Many could remain in the dark throughout the week.
Schools in Bloomingdale, the Chathams, Rockaway, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Washington Township in Morris County and other districts announced they would be closed today.
In a way, Halloween itself was postponed in Mountain Lakes, where the power outage prompted officials to reschedule an annual borough-wide celebration until Friday.
Commuters driving to work were urged to use caution this morning, while NJ Transit cancelled trains on its Morris & Essex Lines, including the Gladstone Branch and Montclair-Boonton Line.
State Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Polite, warned motorists to be wary of icy roads and to remove snow that had accumulated on their vehicles.
"Slow down, give yourself enough distance from the car in front of you," said Polite. "When you go out in the morning, remember to shovel your car off, because that is a violation and we will enforce it."
At least two deaths have been attributed to the storm.
In Wayne, one person was killed and two PSE&G employees were injured in a collision early Sunday. Police said Oscar Ramos, 40, of Haledon, was driving on Hamburg Turnpike when he struck a PSE&G truck being used to repair a downed power line near Alps Road. Police said Ramos died from his injuries.
And in Franklin Lakes, where the streets were littered with downed power lines and trees, police said a an elderly man was killed by a fire Saturday. Peter Andre, 85, who uses a wheelchair, died from smoke inhalation, after he could not be rescued by his son, who also uses a wheelchair, or their housekeeper, police said.
Denville resident Josh Dechter said he looked out his window Sunday onto "a war zone," of downed trees and wires under a layer of glossy white.
"It was kind of pretty in a Tim Burton kind of way," said Dechter, 44.
State Police said travel on New Jersey’s toll roads — New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway — was normal Sunday.
Air travel in the region was also largely back to normal Sunday, said Hunter Pendarvis, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports.
"We had crews out all night clearing runways," Pendarvis said. "The fact that this was such an early season snow did not have any impact at any of our airports."
But cancellations on Saturday did leave some travellers stranded Sunday and disrupted plans of the others.
At Newark Liberty Sunday, a group of Swedish vacationers were gathered in Terminal B, waiting for the SAS ticket counter to open, hoping to learn when they would fly back to Stockholm after their flight had been cancelled on Saturday afternoon. They said they were given a toll free number to call by an SAS gate agent after their flight was canceled Saturday, but the line was busy all weekend. They said they found hotels Saturday night, though they were not given vouchers for the extra night’s stay.
"Nobody knows where or when we’re going to Europe," said a member of the group, Magnus Sundstrom, who lives north of Stockholm.
In other parts of Essex County, Sheriff Armando Fontoura said about 120,000 Essex residents were without power Sunday. He said many side streets still had wires and large tree limbs down. About a dozen people were in shelters in South Orange and West Orange.
Fontoura said PSE&G was getting help from out-of-state utility crews and from local public works departments.
"That’s a tough thing to coordinate," Fontoura said. All in all, he said, "We still have some serious, serious problems."
In Somerset County, Bridgewater Police Lt. Robert Wilt estimated that about a third of the township was without power after the storm. Parts of Route 28, Foothill Road, and other roadways were closed.
"We’re pretty much in a state of emergency here. We’re going from call to call," he said Sunday.
In Cranford, the storm downed countless trees and power lines, forcing drivers to zig-zag to avoid closed streets, or to skip driving altogether. Department of Public Works crews were out early, driving slowly through the streets with trucks and chippers, clearing debris.
"It seemed like it was raining tree limbs and tree branches last night," said public works employee Tim Meyer. "It almost seemed like a repeat of Hurricane Irene without the water."
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October snowstorm gives N.J. a 'white Halloween' | NJ.com