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A Look Back At Hurricane Irene

Storm did not live up to catastrophic expectations, but still packed a punch

The message from the mayor's office was stark and simple

"Whereas it has become evident that all persons present should leave the jurisdiction..." read the Aug. 26, 2011 message sent by then-Berkeley Mayor Jason J. Varano and Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele.

But the the notice didn't just include the usual ocean and bayfront areas in South Seaside Park and Pelican island.

This time it included residents who lived in the mainland waterfront areas -  "...all homes along the Cedar Creek, the Toms River and the bayfront shall evacuate the area."

And in case residents didn't get the message, police officers cruised slowly down street after street that Friday night. Bayview Avenue, Harbor Inn Road, Neary Avenue, Cedar Beach, Sandpiper Beach, Riviera Beach, Good Luck Point, Toms River Shores, Glen Cove and Berkeley Shores.

Mandatory evacuations were underway. Residents had until noon Saturday to get out. Police officers handed notices or taped them to front doors.

Get out

"Severe weather situation is in effect. Possibility of extreme weather conditions. MANDATORY EVACUATIONS"

The were the first that then-Township Councilman, now Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. could remember. Amato has lived in Bayville for 40 years.

"I do remember Hurricane Gloria in the mid-1980s was supposed to be bad and in the late 1990's Hurricane Floyd was pretty bad," he said.

The day before, then-Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari and Ocean County Emergency Management officials hunkered down at Robert J. Miller Airpark off Route 530 to brace themselves and residents for the coming storm.

Vicari wasted no time declaring a , well ahead of the hurricane, which was expected to hit hard the next morning.

"Our goal is we don't want one life lost," Vicari said at the press conference. "In our lifetimes, this is the biggest hurricane we've ever experienced."

Vicari also said that people ordered to evacuate must leave.

"We are telling people their lives are in danger," he said then. "It will happen. Don't be complacent. We can't stop 100 mile an hour winds. We can't stop a storm surge."

Shelters scarce

Berkeley officials and residents were hampered by evacuation orders, because there were and still aren't public shelters available in Berkeley, due to a lack of generators. Central Regional High School and the Berkeley Township Elementary School went unused.

Berkeley residents who had to leave either headed to family and friends or had to take their chances getting into a Toms River shelter. Toms River High School North filled up rapidly and officials there had to open more schools to cope with evacuees.

Eventually, Varano and DiMichele opened up off Mule Road in the western section of the township as an emergency shelter. The church had an emergency generator, but no beds, just tables and chairs, Township Councilwoman Judy Noonan said then.

The worst arrived on Saturday. Power went out in a number of areas throughout the township. Trees blew down, branches littered the roadways. But the winds never reached the expected 100 miles per hour.

Hardest hit

When it was all over, , were hit the hardest, Varano said at the time.

Flood waters were two to three feet deep in Pelican Island and South Seaside Park. Roads into Pelican Island were blocked off.

William Vannella, deputy public works director, compared the flooding to the December 1992 Noreaster.

Meteorologist Steve DiMartino, of NYNJPAWeather.com, said Irene "wasn't overhyped."

"It was forecast to reach New York City as a weak category one hurricane, and it did just that," DiMartino said back then. "If you didn't experience hurricane force winds, consider yourself lucky."

DiMartino said that as Irene moved along the coast, it was pulling in dry air from the land, essentially collapsing itself from within. That caused the storm to weaken in terms of both wind and rainfall amounts.

But even though the storm weakened as it neared New Jersey – its eye was barely visible by the time it came ashore at Little Egg Inlet in Ocean County – what is and isn't a major storm is "all relative," DiMartino said.

"The reality is that we have hundreds of thousands of people without power, trees are down everywhere, and some people did feel hurricane force winds," he said. "It wasn't as if they were forecasting for a category three hurricane to hit."

Don't get too complacent. Although the 2012 hurricane season has been virtually non-existent along the Atlantic seaboard, Tropical Storm Isaac is now churning on a west-northwest path south of Puerto Rico.

Mattie August 24, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Holiday City (Berkeley) did not require mandatory evacuations.....

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