As with any natural disaster, storm, or accident, the main priority is to make sure the ones you love and care about are safe. When it comes to Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, Bill Sette, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., President and Chief Executive Officer of Preferred Behavioral Health of New Jersey, explains that “Our primary concerns are our consumers and our staff. We want to make sure that everyone is safe. Of those that we can get in touch with- do they have power, heat, food?”
“We have staff who were in mandatory evacuation zones, staff members who have had their homes taken, and have lost everything. I’m assuming we have consumers out there who we haven’t reached yet who are in the same position,” he tells Behavioral Healthcare.
Additionally, Sette explains, “Our group homes needed to be manned and we certainly we mindful of making sure that the shifts were covered and that people were moved to safe facilities if they were out of power or were in a flood zone with a mandatory evacuation. We did move people into other facilities where we had power and knew it would be safe for them.”
Staff members from the organization have also been providing support to shelters that have opened for the general community.
Services provided to those in need have not been hindered, according to Sette. “We’ve managed at this point to get most of our treatment facilities opened and staffed. If people are calling or coming in with emergency needs for medication or for some intervention, we’re here for them. We are now taking our calls 24 hours a day.”
He says the difficult part is the communication because cell phones are working sporadically and land lines are also somewhat limited.
Preferred Behavioral Health of New Jersey, which spans across Mama’s County and Ocean County areas in New Jersey, covers everything from the Long Beach Island, which Sette says “was probably as close to the direct hit as you can get,” up to Keyport on the coast. “We’ve had a great deal of devastation,” he recounts.
As far as damages to the facilities go, Sette explains that the facilities within his organization did not suffer physical damage. “We weren’t in immediate flood zones. If you were five miles inland you were relatively safe, at least from storm damage caused by the ocean or water.”
However, the high winds and rain were prevalent and he describes the power outages to be “hundreds of thousands.”
Although the power is coming on slowly in some areas, Sette explains that the biggest hazard with the whole region out of power is on the highways. He says that most towns in the area have implemented 7 p.m. curfews to help keep people safe.
He explains that with no traffic lights, “getting across six-lane highways with all the traffic is very difficult.” He continues on to say that many of the intersections have been blocked off, and some of the cross streets on each highway are being manned by police officers.
“Unless the towns have blocked off the intersections with heavy equipment, which some have, people are just plowing right through cones and going where they shouldn’t go. They’re not using very good judgment,” he says.
People in the area do not know what the near future holds. “It may be another week before some areas see power,” Sette explains. “It’s the worst storm I’ve seen on the Jersey coast and I’ve lived here for over 60 years. It’s bad.”
Another large inconvenience the storm has brought is the ease to obtain gasoline. The gas stations that are open (many are not due to power outages) have lines that are two miles long, according to Sette. And not only are people are looking for gas for their cars, but they are also in need of it to run their generators.
On the peninsula between Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights, homes were destroyed, Sette explains. To add to that, fires then started because of the igniting gas lines that were exposed by the houses being moved off their foundations. This led to the gas being shut off to stop in some areas to stop those problems, which is creating energy problems for others in the area who are still in need of gas to heat their homes and water.
He says a huge area of devastation is the Barrier Islands where people were evacuated from their homes. A psychologist colleague of Sette’s lives out on one of the Barrier Islands said there is four feet of water in the house that has been there for several days. One house floating down the river took out a local bridge going to one of the Barrier Islands.
“They’re estimating that it could be an excess of $70 billion dollars of damage on the Jersey Shore and that doesn’t include issues of life and death,” says Sette of the devastation.
Some schools in the area are closed until Nov. 12 because so many families are without power, water, and/or shelter at this time, and many of the schools are currently being used as shelters.
At this point, Sette explains that “there are still a lot of unknowns.” He says they just need to work on getting the centers powered up and get the phones working completely again.