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Irene a Year Later: R-FH Area Revisited

A look back at the tropical storm and what was realized

Last year, Hurricane Irene did not hit with the voracity it originally threatened in the Rumson-Fair Haven area.

The scurry before the storm, however, turned out to be a lesson learned in gratitude for healthy community spirit and preparedness. That lesson has been safely tucked into officials’, business owners’ and residents’ long –term memories until another high tide of storm-watch rolls in.

When Irene was looming, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, for the first time in history, was set up as regional evacuation shelter, “with food, water, cots and generators,” Rumson Mayor John Ekdahl recalled. “Rumson issued a ‘mandatory’ evacuation for several hundred residents in low-lying, flood-prone sections of the borough (near the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers). These notices were hand delivered by Rumson police.”

People in “safe” areas went through the routine route of preparation.

In Fair Haven, as with Rumson, people taped windows, took in lawn furniture, stocked up on food, in case of power outages and stranding and just waited for Irene to dare topple them.

“The windows were all taped at the businesses,” recalled Priscilla Bahr, owner of Nature’s Emporium in Fair Haven. “I honestly don’t recall much damage or loss of business through it all. Let me check my book. No. It was very humid the day before and everyone was preparing, but, no, it was more like a flash and it was gone, aside from some limbs and trees downed, pockets of flooding and strange, sporadic electricity outages. What I remember most is the way everyone banded together, in the business community and neighborhoods to help one another out with preparations.”

Bahr said that in addition to watching her store, she had been house-sitting in Rumson before, during and after the storm. “Everyone was helping one another with lawn furniture and windows,” she said. “But it was really strange how some people lost power for a long time and others, right next to them, didn’t.”

The power outage response from Jersey Central Power & Light Co. (JCP&L) was a contentious matter for a long time after the storm. In Fair Haven, there were a few scattered outages and in Rumson, Ekdahl said, there definitely were “issues with JCP& L restoring power, some homes were down close to a week.”

However, he said, the issue has since been quelled with more effective communication.  “Communication has vastly improved with the new ‘power outage’ map on the Borough Web site,” the mayor said. “The map doesn’t help restore power but does keep residents aware of outages and time frames.”

Some low-lying streets in Rumson, especially those near the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge bordering the Shrewsbury, got hit with flash flooding. But, the mayor recounted, it all dried up and blew out relatively quickly.

“Irene did weaken as it approached NJ and cooler waters, hence flooding and high winds were not as bad as anticipated however rainfall was heavier than predicted,” Ekdahl said.

In Sea Bright, where flooding is almost habitual during any storm, much less a hurricane, “it really wasn’t even as bad here as it was in Leonardo (Middletown),” said resident Claudia Canton. “There was a flash of rain, wind and flooding, but it cleared up pretty quickly. There was some water damage for some people. A few houses flooded, but that’s pretty common in Sea Bright. Since then, they (foundations) have been raised up, but flooding around here is pretty common, so people are used to it.”

The Shrewsbury River at the foot of many Sea Bright streets on the westerly side of Ocean Avenue, laps up against the street every day.

Woody’s Ocean Grille was on the cusp of its grand opening when Irene catapulted her threat.

Owner Chris Wood was a little stressed, but not terribly fazed by it all. Wood is a graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven and has not only lived in the area for most of his life, but was already well-acquainted with how storms hit Sea Bright, so the preparedness, while diligent, with sand bagging, window boarding and the like, was not overly daunting.

“Everybody in this area tends to pull together during any sort of threat or crisis,” Bahr said. “That’s what makes it so nice to be a part of these communities. People always help one another out. Big or small, we always pull through.”

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