The remnants of Hurricane Ida left destruction throughout New Jersey, including in some of its most densely populated urban areas, killing more than two dozen people.
In Elizabeth in Union County, five people died, four in one flooded basement apartment. In Newark, where Ida was the wettest storm on record with more than 8 inches of rainfall in a single day, more than 400 people had to be rescued. Jersey City suffered more than $35 million worth of damage to its infrastructure.
Surprisingly, neither Union County nor Essex and Hudson counties were among the six counties designated as major disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a lapse that angered local officials, community activists and Gov. Phil Murphy, who vowed to press the federal agency to widen areas covered by the designation.
“I can’t see the justification for not being selected,’’ said Maria Lopez-Nuñez, of the Ironbound Community Corporation, an area of Newark, the state’s largest city, where many basement apartments were flooded. “Some people lost everything. How do you overlook that?’’
Many of those urban areas that missed being designated include environmental-justice communities that suffer from exposure to pollution from power plants, garbage incinerators and excessive traffic from diesel-belching trucks. Climate scientists also warn those neighborhoods are among the most vulnerable to the problems posed by a warming climate.
“It is quite disturbing,’’ said Kim Gaddy, a Newark resident and a director of Clean Water Action. “When these crises happen, the majority of environmental justice communities are overlooked.’’
Murphy was disappointed
Murphy, who has made the problems addressing those communities a priority, was disappointed by the designation of only Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic and Somerset counties by FEMA. At that time, he said he would press the agency to add more counties to the list.
Alyana Alfaro, a spokeswoman for Murphy, said a major disaster declaration was requested for the entire state, a decision that is up to FEMA.
Apparently, President Biden, who visited storm-ravaged New Jersey on Tuesday, is prepared to weigh in on behalf of the state. In a press gaggle during the visit, Jen Psaki, press secretary for Biden, said the president is “quite amenable’’ to the state’s request.
“I was there in the room when he spoke to Governor Murphy last week, and what he conveyed to him is, ‘You just tell me what we need — what you need — to help the people of New Jersey to recover, and we’re going to work to get you that,’’’ Psaki said.
The federal aid in approved counties allows for individuals to apply for disaster assistance for Ida-related recovery, which may include home repairs, temporary housing, low-cost loans and other programs to help recover from the hurricane’s impact.
Even if those urban areas end up being designated major disaster areas, Lopez-Nuñez said it could have lingering consequences for the flood victims. “I’m not sure where to place the blame,’’ she said.
“We need to make sure we are safeguarding all communities,’’ added Nicky Sheats, a member of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance.