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UPDATE (10:25am): The story has been updated to reflect the end of the boil water advisory announced this morning.
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A new man in charge of the city’s water department has his hands full after storm damage left the utility with problems that caused Rutgers University to order an unprecedented evacuation of dozens of dormitories.
Meanwhile, city residents were being instructed not to drink tap water unless they boil it first, until the water was declared safe at 10:25am this morning.
“Bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using, or use bottled water,” read a statement issued by city police at 12:22pm yesterday. “Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice.”
New Brunswick’s water system was one of three in New Jersey that was forced to alert their customers of potential contamination yesterday.
“Due to the excessive damage and widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy the City of New Brunswick is issuing a precautionary boil water advisory,” the statement began.
In response, Rutgers cancelled classes for the rest of the week and re-located every remaining on-campus student in New Brunswick to temporary shelters in Piscataway, citing “flooding and/or water contamination.”
Frank Marascia took over as director of New Brunswick’s water utility on October 15, just two weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. Marascia was appointed by Mayor James Cahill to the cabinet-level position, where he will earn $99,900 annually and be issued a city-owned vehicle.
According to Marascia’s LinkedIn page, he has previously been employed by Elizabethtown Water Company, the Southeast Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority, and the US Geological Survey.
Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin introduced the new department head at an October 17 City Council meeting, when the council approved the vehicle purchase.
“Frank is a professional in the public water business for 13 years… He’s a great hire and we’re happy to have him on board,” said Loughlin, who had previously balanced his administrator job and supervising the water utility.
Loughlin assumed the dual-role under unfortunate circumstances: The city’s last full-time water director ended his own life when he learned that his office may have been the target of a federal corruption investigation in Februrary 2007.
Shawn Maloney, who headed the utility since 1993, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a field near the water plant. He also served as chairman of the city’s planning board and was a strong political supporter of Mayor Cahill.
As for the current director, in more ways than one Marascia faces a monumental task in restoring the integrity of the utility, which serves nearly 8,000 customers.
The city’s official Twitter account offerred no timetable on when the boil water advisory might be lifted: “People should still boil their water but I don’t have any info as to when it’ll be lifted.”
Rutgers’ official statement on the dormitory evacuations said, “In New Brunswick, storm damage caused the failure of the New Brunswick Water pumping system, which has resulted in a critical loss of water throughout the city.”
“The university has been advised by New Brunswick Authorities that the water system cannot sustain domestic and fire protection needs,” the statement continued, adding the water system remains unaffected in Piscataway.
Rutgers directed on-campus students to seek shelter elsewhere if possible, and informed all residents that they had to be out by 4pm today. Campus buses shuttled the remaining students on College Avenue, Cook, and Douglass to various locations on the Busch and Livingston campuses.
The evacuees from Rutgers dorms are part of a major influx of nearly 1,000 evacuees in total that have been transported to locations in Piscataway since Hurricane Sandy began impacting the area on Sunday.
Prior to the storm’s arrival, several buses filled with evacuees from Southern New Jersey counties whose shelters had already filled up were taken to the Rutgers Athletic Center and Livingston Recreation Center. The number of evacuees from out-of-county now totals roughly 600.
Meanwhile, the City of New Brunswick has re-located over 100 evacuees sheltered at the Lord Stirling Community School on George Street, due to a lack of electricity. Their new location is also in Piscataway, at the township’s high school.
About 185 people spent last night in Lord Stirling, according to Social Services Director Dave Blevins. Blevins said the shelter was expecting to house less than half that number before damaged power lines instantly forced the evacuation of an additional 100 residents who lived across the street from the school.
The county government also estimates that 200 evacuees are sheltered in Woodbridge and about 160 each in Old Bridge, Perth Amboy, and Carteret.
Electricity service remains out across most of the New Brunswick, including traffic signals at major intersections. However, service has been restored to certain sections of downtown, Lee Avenue, and the Sixth Ward.
Dozens of downed trees have also rendered many roads impassable, but all major highways are open.
New Brunswick Public Schools will remain closed today for the third consecutive day. A mandatory evacuation order remains in effect for residents of most buildings between Neilsen Street and Route 18, near the Raritan River.
University bus service is expected to resume at 7am.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.