Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 35
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

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Weather Forecast

All in a Week’s Time: Princeton Experiences White Powder Scare, Earthquake, Hurricane

Ellen Gilbert

The area’s ability to mobilize for various emergencies was put to the test in recent days by real and potential dangers.

Most recently and obviously was Hurricane Irene this last weekend. Just days before, on Wednesday, an earthquake centered in Virginia was felt in Princeton and beyond, for several anxious-making seconds. Just a couple of days before that, the receipt of envelopes containing what appeared to be “mysterious white powder” was reported at not one, but two different Princeton locations on the same day.

The earthquake proved to be inconsequential in the immediate area. As the apparent origin of anthrax mailings after September 11, Princeton is particularly sensitive to “white powder” reports, although in this instance, the contents of the envelopes turned out not to be dangerous (one envelope was described as containing powdered sugar obtained at Shop Rite). The extent of the damage wrought by Hurricane Irene this weekend won’t be known for several days.

Hurricane directives at the national and local level began appearing online, in newspapers, and in pre-recorded telephone messages late last week. President Obama moved quickly to declare New Jersey and other states in Irene’s path disaster areas, making them eligible for Federal
Emergency Management
Assistance (FEMA).

A press release from Mercer County administration similarly declared this a “disaster area,” encouraging municipalities and local public agencies to keep careful records of damages and expenses “so that the county could possibly get reimbursement from federal agencies if Mercer County sustains high degrees of damage. Mercer County,” it pointed out, “was successful in obtaining $1.2 million in reimbursements following the December 2010 blizzard.” The announcement that the State had accepted Mercer County’s offer to use the Sun National Bank Center arena in Trenton “as an evacuation shelter for people displaced from other areas of the state,” was meant to be positive, but may have evoked queasiness among those who remember the conditions that prevailed at the New Orleans Superdome during Katrina. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

PSE&G warned of the dangers of touching downed power lines, and the Red Cross put out a call for blood donations in anticipation of days when collection would be impossible. The State’s Department of Health and Senior citizens urged people to throw away food that had come into contact with any flood waters, and to keep freezer and refrigerator doors closed in the event of power outages.

The County and the municipalities suggested lists of emergency supplies for residents to have on hand, and local governments reported on the cooperative efforts that would take place among relevant agencies and offices in response to the storm. The Highway Department reassured everyone that “equipment” was being checked “to ensure everything is functioning properly and will be ready for emergency calls that would typically include inspecting and cleaning storm drain covers, sweeping and cleaning roads in flood-prone areas, making sure trucks are pre-loaded with barrels, have arrow boards, light towers, pumps and generators ready.” Princeton Township’s notice included the unsurprising news that “The Shade Tree Division expects to be busy round the clock over the weekend and into next week, and has geared up.”

A “duh” response may also have been in order to the announcement that the Mercer County Park Commission had suspended all play at its four golf courses on Sunday, and a new YouTube entry, called “Governor Christie: Get the Hell off the Beach” provided some comic relief.

Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) used his website to encourage families to “monitor the storm’s progress closely and to take steps to ensure your safety.”

While most of the messages — even the redundant ones — were welcomed by citizens who were anxious before the storm and beleaguered in its wake, not everyone appreciated outreach efforts. A Township resident reportedly called Mayor Chad Goerner to complain that the municipality’s automatic phone call asking people to remain off the streets on Monday came “too early” in the morning.

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