Officials tour Ida flood-ravaged NJ city as remote learning begins

PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey officials including Senator Bob Menendez and Rep. Bill Pascrell toured flood-ravaged Paterson Wednesday, as the state begins a long recovery from Ida's historic wrath.

The lawmakers got a firsthand look at a shelter that is currently housing displaced families and victims of the storm, which left 27 dead and four missing.

The shelter is located at International High School and being supported by the American Red Cross, while two other comparable shelters that were established to address similar volumes of displaced victims in Manville and Elizabeth have since closed.

Paterson Public Schools, with several buildings damaged, made the decision to have students begin the 2021-2022 school year with three days of remote learning as facilities and maintenance crews continue to work around the clock on recovery efforts.

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The temporary period of remote learning, which began Wednesday, meets the state's requirements for districts to revert to remote learning of a declared state of emergency, students being out of school for at least three days, and a Board of Education-approved remote learning plan.

The emergency remote learning plan was approved by the board at an emergency meeting on Friday, following declarations of a state of emergency by Governor Phil Murphy and Mayor Andre Sayegh earlier in the week.

"Our buildings are safely equipped with the several layers of protection and protocols we have outlined before," said Superintendent Eileen Shafer, who recommended the emergency remote plan to the board. "Having our students remote allows facilities staff unencumbered access to complete their restoration."

Teachers and other school staff were working remotely, while essential school staff -- principals, vice-principals, supervisors, school secretaries, nurses, and cafeteria workers -- were reporting to work in person.

Student meals were being distributed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and parents should be prepared to take home three days of meals at the same meal sites that have been in operation.

On Monday, all Paterson Public Schools staff and students will report to schools in person, except at the Joseph A. Taub School and Public Schools 20 and 24.

Staff and parents will receive further details when these schools are ready.

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President Joe Biden visited the state Tuesday, declaring climate change has become "everybody's crisis" as he toured neighborhoods flooded by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, meeting people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged.

The storm dumped record amounts of rain onto already saturated ground and was blamed for dozens of deaths from Louisiana to the northeast.

Biden has approved major disaster declarations, making federal aid available for people in six New Jersey counties. Governor Phil Murphy said eight more counties are being considered such a designation, with FEMA touring Burlington, Monmouth, Morris and Warren counties Wednesday after surveying Hudson, Essex, Mercer and Union counites Tuesday.

To apply for federal assistance, visit DisasterAssistance.gov/ or call 1-800-621-FEMA.

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