PATERSON – For Mayor Andre Sayegh, a dumpster stuffed with debris was an ideal backdrop.
Sayegh stood in front of that dumpster on the north side of town today as he dramatized the damage last week’s storm did to the state’s third largest city.
He said dumpsters have been strategically placed all over town to allow residents to dispose of all sorts of stuff ruined by water.
The mayor began his day touring a Red Cross shelter at a local high school where 21 people were still being housed. He was joined by Sen. Bob Menendez and Rep. William Pascrell Jr., a former mayor himself.
Assessing storm damage is customary for all elected officials.
But it is those directly impacted who offer politicians and everyone else the best perspective.
As Sayegh spoke by the dumpster, a woman walked by and waved away the TV station camera crews. Rather than publicity, she said she wanted something more basic – gas and hot water. It’s been out since the waters rose.
Back outside the Red Cross shelter, David Draper said he sought refuge there after quickly leaving his Bergen Street home as the water began rising. He left most everything behind, but not his cat, Ms. Missy.
“I’m glad to be alive,” Draper said.
Ms. Missy, who is at a shelter of her own, is doing well too, he said.
Touring damaged areas is one thing for politicians, avoiding future storm damage is quite another.
All three officials took turns commenting on the ferocity of Ida.
“Paterson was hit hard,” the mayor said, adding that 300 residents were rescued.
Pascrell was in Bergen County yesterday.
“It takes a lot to shock me. I was shocked,” he said of the damage.
Front and center in Washington is a $1 trillion-plus bill to improve roads and bridges throughout the country. The Senate has passed it and the House is expected to do likewise.
It’s more than that, however.
With storms getting more severe and fires blazing through western woodlands, all agreed it’s time to start dealing seriously with climate change.
Menendez likened those who oppose doing so to ostriches.
And if you truly don’t understand the perils of a changing climate, Sayegh said, a bit more diplomatically, “Maybe, you should change your opinion.”
Six counties in the state have been declared federal disaster areas, making residents there eligible for help from Washington.
Menendez said that’s not good enough. He wants all of the state’s flood-impacted counties to be so named.
A few hours later, Phil Murphy said the same thing.
Still, if you set disaster declarations and climate change legislation aside for a minute, you come to a human factor.
Most of the 27 New Jerseyans who perished during last week’s storm succumbed while driving.
Both at the morning press conference and the governor’s afternoon briefing, there were no answers as to why too many people were on the road during the height of last week’s storm.
One answer was that drivers misjudged the severity of the storm and the rampaging waters.
Pat Callahan, the head of the state police, said at Murphy’s briefing that he truly hopes everyone has learned the lesson of last week – respect storms and flood warnings. Stay home.
If not, “Shame on all of us,” he said.