Cleaning up after the storm

Mayor’s Message: Bernie Platt

Recently, Cherry Hill — and much of the United States’ eastern seaboard — was hit by Mother Nature in a way we’re not entirely accustomed to seeing.

While we escaped with far less damage and destruction than many forecasters had originally predicted, Hurricane Irene tore through the region with significant force, leaving behind flooded basements and dozens of downed trees and power lines that left a large percentage of our residents without electricity for days.

This was quite a test for the township’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), which was staffed around the clock during the storm by personnel from Cherry Hill’s Police and Fire departments, as well as staff from Public Works, Code Enforcement, and the mayor’s office.

After monitoring the storm’s movement through the course of the preceding week, OEM personnel, including my staff, began outlining Cherry Hill’s emergency plans on Thursday before the storm hit. For days, our professionals worked tirelessly to monitor the ever-evolving forecast and changing conditions, and adapt our plan to respond accordingly.

Until the storm actually hit our area, it was impossible to say with total certainty what lay in store for Cherry Hill — and any level of underestimation could have proven disastrous to both private property and public safety.

From early Saturday, our operation was moving at full capacity.

DPW handed out nearly 2,000 sandbags on Saturday afternoon. Our code official spent all night inspecting flooded homes to ensure their structural integrity. Police staffed not only the OEM, but an emergency shelter at Cherry Hill East that, thankfully, only a handful of residents needed to use.

And our communications team staffed phones through the night while using Facebook and Twitter to keep residents up to speed on what was happening outside in real time.

Our efforts carried into the beginning of the week, as DPW worked to clear trees that had fallen, blocking roads and pulling down electrical lines in the process, and the Fire Department began pumping water out of basements still saddled with significant flooding.

And the cleanup continues. To help residents dig out from the piles of tree limbs and other natural debris left scattered around their properties, I have ordered special curbside collections of yard waste by our Department of Public Works.

Typically, municipal ordinance requires that yard waste — particularly branches, shrubs and small trees — be cut down into four-foot-long pieces and wrapped in bundles of no more than 50 lbs. Those regulations are being relaxed under this program, with the hope of easing the burden on homeowners.

To schedule a collection, residents need only call DPW at 424–4422. Then, place any debris at the curb line, and provided each piece is of a reasonable weight — that is, as long as it’s capable of being lifted and moved — DPW will chip up the pieces on-site and haul them away. Collections will be completed as staff and equipment permit, but all requests will be filled within a few days of your phone call — we only ask that residents register by Wednesday, Sept. 14.

I have also asked DPW to be flexible with regard to the placing of water-damaged items curbside for weekly trash collection. Ordinance requires that items be put at the curb no earlier than 5 p.m. the night before collection. Through Sept. 16, those rules will be relaxed to allow homeowners to put damaged furniture and other items curbside as they’re removed from the home.

Hurricane Irene has caused enough of a headache for homeowners in our area. Over the next few weeks, we will dry out, clean up, and move back toward life as usual.

In the meantime, please let my office know if there’s anything we can do to make this process easier by calling us at 488–7878, or e-mailing me directly at MayorPlatt@chtownship.com.