Cherry Hill cleans up following worst storm in years

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Mark Pastoriza, a resident of Caldwell Drive in Cherry Hill, said he’s never seen anything like it before.

Pulling up to his home in the midst of a severe thunderstorm on Tuesday evening, Pastoriza could only watch as high winds caused a large tree in his front yard to topple into a pine tree, sending the pine tree falling toward his house.

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“My daughters were home,” Pastoriza said. “I was literally right around the corner when this happened. When I pulled up is when the tree came down. I saw the stump come up right there.”

The downed tree at the Pastoriza household was just one of many across Cherry Hill after this week’s storm. On Tuesday, a severe thunderstorm swooped down on Cherry Hill and surrounding communities between 6 and 7 p.m. The storm came with lots of rain, lightning and high winds. The township was also under a tornado warning during the storm, though the National Weather Service did not report a twister in the township.

Looking at the tree laying in his yard, Pastoriza said the wind was unlike anything he had ever seen. He said it was worse than when Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene hit the area.

“We never had winds like we had yesterday,” he said. “Even after I pulled up, it still was really windy.”

The amount of debris in Pastoriza’s yard was significant, with the tree still laying uprooted on Wednesday afternoon. Pastoriza did acknowledge the storm could have been a lot worse. No was one hurt during the incident and his house suffered minimal damage.

“Everybody’s good,” Pastoriza said. “When the pine snapped, it shot forward and hit the front of the house. Where the gutters are, there’s a little bend right there, but other than that, everybody was fine.”

The storm caused a number of different inconveniences for Cherry Hill residents.

Many major roads were closed due to downed wires and trees. Entire neighborhoods in the township had long-term power outages. At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after the storm hit, 33 percent of Cherry Hill customers were still without power according to PSE&G. By Thursday morning at 10 a.m., the number of customers without power in Cherry Hill was down to 17 percent.

After the storm, township officials teamed up with police, fire, public works and the office of emergency management to begin the cleanup process. Bridget Palmer, director of communications for the township, said the storm was easily the worst in the township since Hurricane Sandy.

Cleanup operations carried on through Wednesday and Thursday following the storm. PSE&G used the parking lot of Home Depot at the Marketplace at Garden State Park as a staging center for the Asplundh tree removal company.

Cherry Hill Township public works trucks were also seen throughout the town, removing branches and other large debris and hauling them to designated areas.

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“Public works said they had removed approximately 125 trees,” Palmer said. “There were 25 still waiting to be removed because they were tangled in some power lines.”

To help residents with the clean-up process, the township is relaxing rules with collecting curbside branches and other debris. Through July 10, township personnel will collect any yard debris residents can move to the curb. Residents must call public works at (856) 424–4422 to register. Township personnel can only collect debris and cannot remove trees or large limbs from private property.

In additional, a dumpster was placed in the cul-de-sac outside the public works yard for resident to dispose of spoiled food and other waster. The dumpster will remain in place through July 3.

The power outages meant traffic signals across the township were inoperable. The morning after the storm, there were still more than a dozen traffic lights out in Cherry Hill. Police set up cones and temporary traffic signs to keep traffic moving safely.

Traffic control was one of the biggest challenges the township faced. Police Chief William Monaghan said the police department’s plan was to set up temporary traffic patterns at intersections where traffic lights are out and block off roads where fallen trees and power lines created a hazardous situation for motorists.

“We tried to channel the traffic flow in the safest possible way,” Monaghan said.

Monaghan said while the vast majority of motorists did a good job obeying the road closures and traffic patterns, there were a number of motorists who were causing headaches for police, particularly at major intersections.

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“We had people driving over the channelization,” he said. They were driving with cones under their cars. There were some moving cones. We have to go out and reset the barriers and reset the channelization.”

The storm caused a huge spike in calls for service to the police. Monaghan said the police department received more than 1,400 calls for service between 6 p.m. on June 23 and 3 p.m. on June 24. Most of these calls were storm-related, while some were calls police receive on a regular basis regarding possible crimes and incidents.

“The majority were storm related calls, but there are also normal calls for service,” Monaghan said. “We responded to some domestics, some altercations. While we’re triaging and assessing the storm damage, we still have our normal calls.”

Monaghan said the best thing residents can do in emergency situations like this week’s is to err on the side of safety at home and on the roads.

“Take your time, have patience, have courtesy for others and follow the rules of the road,” he said.

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