FEMA may soon expand NJ’s Ida disaster assistance area; residents say that it’s about time


HOBOKEN, N.J. — The Federal Emergency Management Agency may soon declare four more North Jersey counties disaster areas, after its inspectors toured some communities in those counties that were hardest hit by the remnants of Hurricane Ida.  

The declaration would be a contrast to the federal government’s decision earlier this week to designate only six New Jersey counties as disaster areas, even though at least ten counties got inundated by the storm’s rains.

It’s a situation that families like Rafael Hirujo’s say they can’t understand.  On Wednesday, the man who’s lived in his home in Hoboken for 42 years was still cleaning out parts of his basement and garage damaged by the sudden deluge that happened a week before.  

“I was home and I wasn’t able to salvage anything,” Hirujo said about the flood.  

Ida poured five inches of rain onto his home and thousands more like it in the neighborhood.  Many are still feeling the effects.  

“All my neighboring houses got losses like myself,” Hirujo said, as he loaded trash bag after trash bag into piles.  Inside each were what was left of some of his family’s belongings.  The storm water rendered it all worthless.     

He was among many people in the Garden State calling for the federal government to widen its disaster area declaration.  Currently in New Jersey, the designation covers  Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset counties. FEMA, which makes the designation, is now considering adding  Essex, Hudson, Mercer, and Union Counties.

That designation would include some of the hardest hit cities, including Jersey City, Elizabeth, Cranbury, and Hoboken, among others.

Joe Shine, a Hoboken resident for 31 years, said he’s never seen the type of flooding his city was under last week.  He added to the chorus of people calling for an expanded emergency declaration.

“If you’re going to declare something,” he said, “you’ve got to declare the people who got really hit hard, and Hoboken did.”

The storm killed at least 27 people.  At least eight of those fatalities occurred in Essex and Union counties, neither of which were included in the FEMA disaster declaration area.  At least four people remain missing in Essex County, and other areas of New Jersey that weren’t included in the disaster declaration. 

It’s why Mayor Steven Fulop of Jersey City has been among the elected officials prominently calling for the disaster area designation to be expanded. 

“You’d have to make the assumption that somehow Ida just didn’t rain on us, and circumvented us, which didn’t happen,” Fulop said in an interview, about how his Hudson County city hasn’t yet been designated for federal relief. “I’m hoping that it gets corrected.” 

FEMA officials were in Jersey City on Tuesday to view damage, with an eye toward expanding the declaration zone.

Gov. Phil Murphy also had recommended its expansion to President Joe Biden, when the president toured the area on Tuesday.

Those developments, Mayor Fulop said, left him feeling cautiously optimistic that federal assistance may be on the way.  It would reimburse residents up to $34,000 each for their storm-related losses.  

The mayor said that FEMA officials had made favorable statements about help coming.

FEMA may soon expand NJ’s Ida disaster assistance area; residents say that it’s about time “They said it could be a matter of days,” said the mayor, “so I’m hoping by the end of the week we have some clarity.”

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