Whether an afterthought or an oversight, included counties also felt the brunt of the storm.
In their original September 7 press release, FEMA listed only six New Jersey counties eligible for assistance—Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset. This included help regarding home repairs, temporary housing, and other programs.
“We’re going to make sure the relief is equitable so that those hardest-hit get what they need,” he said in the subsequent press conference. Reportedly, Murphy was disappointed with the decision. He wanted a minimum of Essex, Hudson, Union and Mercer to be included in the lineup.
“[W]e wanted to be able to get this disaster declaration in place quickly . . . to really get a better understanding of the scope of the impact that the communities are experiencing across New Jersey, ” expounded FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “So I have staff on the ground today [in NJ] that are doing assessments in Essex, Hudson, Union, and Mercer [counties].”
Four days later, the federal agency allowed survivors “Individual Assistance” in the four aforementioned counties to apply for possible aid via a September 11 press release. Local community leaders and residents questioned how an oversight could have taken place, especially in these large counties that hold some of the largest cities in New Jersey.
“I can’t see the justification for not being selected [the first time],” lamented Newark’s Ironbound Community Corporation worker Maria Lopez-Nuñez. “Some people lost everything [during Tropical Storm Ida]. How do you overlook that?”
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Approximately 50 people have died as a result of Tropical Storm Ida in the Northeast. Of those, about 30 died in New Jersey, with a collective count of 13 between the four counties Gov. Murphy wanted to add. In Union county for example, four people of the five diedby drowning in a flooded basement apartment in Elizabeth, a majority-Latino city ,.
The storm saw severe rainfall, hence residents experienced flooding and even electrocution. Overall, the natural disaster has cost the country more than $95 billion in damages. Newark Public schools claim to have suffered at least $5 million of that. New Jersey has not seen devastation on this scale since SuperStorm Sandy in 2012.
Made up of majorly Black and Latino populations, Essex county is home to the state’s largest and poorest cities, such as Newark. Likewise, Hudson and Union counties have sizable populations that are people of color despite approximately 30 to 40 percent identifying as White alone. Although a white majority, Mercer county also has considerable Black, Latino and Asian enclaves.
“I hope they understand the devastation that this community is suffering right now, I really do because nobody is answering telephones and it’s really hard, “ cried Millburn resident Ms. Mann as she explained to NJ Spotlight on how hard Ida hit the Essex county community. “So much help is needed that I don’t even know what to ask for.”
A parking lot attendant told Ark Republic that he had to throw away all of his belongings in the basement due to flooding and burst pipes. “It was so nasty and moldy that we had to throw away money. Thanks [to] God we’re alive, but everybody in my neighborhood lost a lot,” he said.
New Jersey has an ever-increasing income wealth gap between the under and upper classes—the ninth highest in the nation according to the U.S. Census’ rankings, and eighteenth regarding the minority wage gap. Hence, questions surrounding low-income, minority communities and their capabilities to fight implications of natural disasters are of great concern after these major storms.
The impact on already economically unstable communities leads to the question of whether environmental justice is indeed becoming another method by which to measure civil rights.
Residents can find up-to-date, relevant Tropical Storm Ida information and resources on the state’s website.
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