Assessing Hurricane Ida Damages in New Jersey and Pennsylvania

Mid-Atlantic  | September 16, 2021
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Piles of debris from homes are piled up along the roadside in Millburn, New Jersey. Photo/Chang Chia Huan

Written by Tzu Chi USA Mid-Atlantic Region volunteers
Translated by Mark Wan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

After Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana and then weakened into a tropical storm, it reached the Eastern United States in the evening on September 1, 2021, bringing heavy rain, thunder, lightning, and even tornadoes spotted in some areas. The turbulent weather caused water to accumulate in many parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a State of Emergency at 10:00 PM and requested people stay home and avoid going outside. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf also signed off on a State of Emergency declaration that same night.

Once weather conditions allowed safe travel, teams of Tzu Chi volunteers in those states headed out to assess damages, intending to launch disaster aid distributions as needed.

The water level of Pennsylvania’s Schuylkill River is at full height, and parking lots alongside are flooded. Photo/Wang Shu Ling

Areas Around Tzu Chi USA’s Northern New Jersey Office Are in Serious Condition

In New Jersey, the disaster assessment teams could spot devastation everywhere along the path of a tornado that passed through. Reports of damage were coming in from all over the region; flooding on Highway 10 in Whippany, west of Tzu Chi USA’s Northern New Jersey office. Hoboken, a city on the Hudson River about 30 minutes from the office, had flooded streets.

Tzu Chi Academy Northern New Jersey learned that a sixth-grade student’s residence in Millburn incurred damages from flooding. Volunteers went to the area on September 5 to assess the situation. The home of this student and his parents had flooded, with water having poured in through the entrance and inundated the basement and first floor, reaching as high as four feet.

The disaster assessment volunteers helped the parents pack their belongings in closets. At present, the whole family is staying at a hotel and has secured a rental house for the short term. As there was no hot water or gas in the disaster area, volunteers brought Jing Si food for the family. The parents expressed deep gratitude, sharing how the need for food is predominant at the moment.

Volunteers help the family pack their belongings in closets while they live in a hotel and later a rented house for the short term. Photo/Feng Jo Lin
Volunteers bring Jing Si food for a family impacted by flooding in New Jersey. Photo/Chang Chia Huan

The city of Millburn is less than 30 minutes away from the Tzu Chi Northern New Jersey office. Governor Phil Murphy, accompanied by Tara Prupis, Mayor of Millburn/Short Hills Township, inspected the city’s disaster area and pledged to provide financial assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The storm caused significant property loss and damage. Debris removed from homes could be seen along roads in the area. 

As they assessed disaster damages in Millburn, Tzu Chi volunteers met Mayor Prupis while she was visiting families door-to-door and distributing FEMA disaster relief registration flyers. The volunteers exchanged contact information with her so they could discuss further assistance later on.

Volunteers meet Tara Prupis, Mayor of Millburn/Short Hills Township in New Jersey, and exchange contact information with her to discuss further assistance. Photo/Feng Jo Lin

Tornadoes in Southwest New Jersey Caused Far-Reaching Damage

The disaster assessment teams discovered that dozens of homes were damaged by the tornado that hit Mullica Hill in Southwestern New Jersey, a 40-minute drive from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The amount of rain that fell in the New Jersey area on September 2 reached nearly 11 inches, while the heaviest wind was recorded at Mullica Hill, reaching close to 150 miles per hour. 

The National Weather Service has completed a survey of storm damage from Hurricane Ida, confirming that seven tornadoes occurred at the time. On the road to the Mullica Hill disaster area, volunteers passed through the city of Deptford, which was also swept by the tornado, with shattered tree branches piled up by the roadside. The tornado was so powerful that houses were damaged wherever it hit.

Tree debris caused by a tornado in Deptford Township in New Jersey is piled up by the roadside. Photo/Hsu Hsueh Ming
Houses along a tornado’s path in Mullica Hill, in Southwestern New Jersey, were damaged. Photo/Hsu Hsueh Ming

Disastrous Flooding Near Tzu Chi USA's Philadelphia Office in Pennsylvania

The disaster assessment teams saw that the main passage to Philadelphia, Interstate 76, was flooded and inaccessible, forcing all traffic to detour. The water level of the Schuylkill River to the west of Tzu Chi USA’s office in the city was at full height and had inundated railroad tracks, parking lots, and the first floor and basement of buildings. 

It took the head of Tzu Chi USA’s Philadelphia office, Wang Tzu Wei, two hours to get to the office from home, while on a typical day, it only takes him 30 minutes. On September 2, Tzu Chi volunteers also reached out to Erin Stephens, Regional Disaster Officer for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Region of the American Red Cross, to ascertain the current situation of disaster survivors; she will contact Tzu Chi volunteers later.

The main road to Philadelphia, Interstate 76, is flooded and inaccessible Photo/Wang Shu Ling
Railroad tracks along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia are flooded. Photo/Wang Shu Ling

Such disaster assessment efforts by Tzu Chi volunteers typically lead to timely disaster relief distributions. Do stay tuned as the Hurricane Ida relief mission unfolds. And, we invite you to partner with Tzu Chi on disaster aid through your kindhearted donation to help those suffering after catastrophes.

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