County plans response as new hurricane season begins

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WILDWOOD – While meteorologists are predicting a slower than usual hurricane season this year, Cape May County officials are still asking residents to look to Sandy as a reason to always be prepared.

Emergency management officials, meteorologists, and experts from around the state gathered in the Wildwoods Convention Center Tuesday, June 3 to discuss the steps the county has taken since Hurricane Sandy and what still needs to be done.

“Sometimes, it takes a disaster, or a near disaster, to learn some things,” Martin Pagliughi, Cape May County’s emergency management coordinator, told the crowd at the conference.

While Hurricane Sandy was not as devastating in Cape May County as it was in places like Seaside Heights or Long Beach Island, officials here have taken several steps to be more prepared in the future. Pagliughi said that the county is owed $40 million in obligated reimbursements from FEMA for infrastructure damage, excluding the assistance given to individuals whose property was damaged in the storm. Of that, about $15 million has been paid, he said.

“It’s a long and strenuous process,” he said.

To be prepared in the next emergency, the county has acquired 22 high wheel emergency trucks from government surplus. Nine emergency generators have also been acquired through the program.

Pagliughi said the trucks are to ensure that Cape May County residents will not be forced to wait hours for help evacuating in an emergency.

An emergency website for the county was debuted last year, which includes information about tide levels and lists of approved shelters for residents. To encourage residents to evacuate, the county has also set up the County Animal Response Team, or CART, a grassroots effort that raised money for pet shelters throughout the county. The first was created by the Borough of Avalon, and now the county can shelter 250 pets during an emergency in its five shelters, and independently operate those shelters for up to 72 hours.

Jim Eberwine, a meteorologist and retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hurricane and marine program manager, said that NOAA is predicting a slower than average hurricane season in the Atlantic basin this year.

The administration has predicted there will be eight to 13 named storms this year, three to six of which will become hurricanes, and one or two of those hurricanes will be major storms, meaning a category 3 storm or above. Usually, there are about 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, the administration said.

According to NOAA, the El Nino this summer is the cause of the slower season, which runs June 1 to November. The warmer ocean temperatures and wind shift caused by the El Nino reduces the number and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, the administration said.

“If there was no El Nino, it would be a very active season,” Eberwine said.

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