They came to church on Sunday morning with work boots and gardening gloves, dragging gasoline and wheelbarrows through the parking lot before entering to pray.
“Does anyone know how to drive an excavator?” Phil Moser, pastor of the Fellowship Bible Church said to Sewell as he entered the building.
Moser’s service was quick. Don’t ask “why,” he said, when it comes to the destructive tornado that ravaged the around South Jersey neighborhoods and devastated Mullica Hill Wednesday night. Instead, ask how you can help. So, after a brief reminder of the Good Samaritan tale, at least 150 participants left and walked down a street lined with cornfields and cows to begin their real Sunday service with a choir of chainsaws.
“These are just people helping people,” said Bill Drennen, a retired Philadelphia firefighter and church member.
»READ MORE: Ida’s legacy: 5 dead, 7 tornadoes, record flooding, hundreds of water rescues, an incredibly soggy mess
Wednesday night’s EF-3 tornado smashed hundreds of trees on both sides of the gravel driveway leading to Cynthia Koch’s home in Mantua township. Koch, 46, was overwhelmed with emotion from all the support, watching children and elderly church members pulling branches and logs away from the house. His mother served Dunkin donuts.
“It makes you believe that there is still some good in this world,” she said.
Even further down the gravel driveway, Karen Santoro said the 50 or so church and community members who cleared fallen trees from her property have likely saved her tens of thousands of dollars. She said her entire community, from the firefighters to the mayor and the church, had been helpful since the storm hit.
President Joe Biden is due to investigate storm damage in Queens, NY and Manville, Somerset County, NJ on Tuesday, but he is not scheduled to visit southern Jersey. Santoro, whose home is 30 miles east of Biden’s residence in Wilmington, said she didn’t mind.
“I mean, can he use a chainsaw?” She asked.
At Confront the nation Governor Phil Murphy on Sunday said the state “will continue to ask for more [federal assistance] because we need it. Last week Biden approved the New Jersey emergency declaration, opening the door to additional federal aid in the Garden State.
READ MORE: Biden hints at state aid, but unclear if Pa. And NJ will get federal disaster relief
“We’ll do whatever we can in the state, but we badly need the federal government,” Murphy said before turning to Biden’s visit on Tuesday. “I have no doubts that they will be there for us and I look forward to having the President with us on Tuesday and seeing him up close with our own eyes.”
Murphy said he thinks it is time for the state to “update its playbook for storm responses,” and called for increased federal infrastructure funding, saying New Jersey has ” of an infrastructure built for a different reality “.
“We shouted loud and clear: tornado warnings, flood warnings, flash flood warnings. We begged people to get off the road, ”he said. “And again, you have 27 deaths and enormous destruction.”
READ MORE: Ida’s Fatal Power Didn’t Shock Scientists Studying How Climate Change Primed The Pump
The National Weather Service said the tornado was 12.6 miles long and only 400 meters wide. This narrow path of destruction was most evident on Salvatore Drive in the Mullica Hill section of Harrison Township. Most of the houses lacked parts of their roofs and others had exterior walls sheared off to reveal the children’s rooms.
Anthony Dagrosa’s house stood between two of them. Now it’s gone, nothing but a floor and a stairwell leading to the basement where he hid with his children.
“When we got out of the basement it was like that,” he said in the middle of the cleanup on Sunday. “The whole house was blown away. “
Dagrosa said he had “more important things to worry about” than a presidential visit.
While some families grappled with the loss of their homes and belongings, another family in Gloucester County tried to save their livelihoods. The Angelo Grasso & Son farm in Mullica Hill was in harvest season – tomatoes, green peppers and eggplants – when the tornado ravaged the 100 acres.
“If you’ve ever eaten pico de gallo, you’ve already eaten our tomatoes,” Katie Grasso, 38, said at the farm on Sunday.
The Grassos have been farming in the area since 1957 and most of their processing buildings and barns were gone or were so damaged that they should have gone down anyway. Trees were strewn across the property and a six-wheeled box truck was by the side. A farm worker suffered a broken arm, said Grasso.
Angelo and his son, Leonard, both have homes on the property and both have been damaged.
“My parents have a shed in their living room,” Katie said.
While they have yet to begin calculating the damage estimates, Katie and her father embraced for a moment near the overturned truck, the losses evident to them. Their mother was making a “huge” tray of lasagna for the workers.
Katie, who works for US Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, said she was relieved by the outpouring of support from neighboring farmers. A GoFundMe account set up by the Gloucester County Board of Agriculture has raised nearly $ 60,000 so far for the farm.
Grasso said she would be happy to see Biden in South Jersey.
“Anytime our elected officials show compassion and care and want to help, we will accept it, and that extends to President Biden,” she said.
Meanwhile, across Delaware and off the banks of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia, the historic flood cleanup persisted on Sunday. As the second day of Made in America pulsed down the Parkway, the Vine Street Expressway had returned from the contaminant laden canal to the road.
Kelly Drive, which in the floods had become an extension of the Schuylkill, has been reopened to traffic. City workers found and repaired two sinkholes caused by the flooding, a spokesperson said.
Volunteers gathered to clean up debris-strewn trails. Over the next few days, the city said its Emergency Management Office and Licensing and Inspection Department will partner with FEMA, PEMA and the US Small Business Administration to assess damage in Manayunk, East Falls and Center City.
READ MORE: Philly Wants To Hear From Homeowners And Businesses With Ida Damages
In the suburbs, about three dozen roads remain closed, mostly in the hard-hit counties of Bucks and Montgomery, a PennDOT spokesperson said, and teams of inspectors are assessing hundreds of bridges for damage caused by the storms in Philadelphia and its col counties. Aqua issued a boil water advisory for parts of the townships of East Whiteland and Charlestown.
READ MORE: Storm clean-up continues after Ida: “People have been there”
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Michael Balaban, said the organization has spent the last few days helping the region’s community manage FEMA and insurance claims, and to relocate those whose homes may have been destroyed. Many, he said, still have a long way to go, including the families of those who died in the storm.
Schuylkill floodwaters flooded the Jewish Federation headquarters at 2100 Arch St., but “our building, you know, it’s a building,” Balaban said.
It’s a double-edged sword, he says. “You’re going on vacation, and you want to be able to concentrate, whether it’s cooking meals for your family… or going to the synagogue. But it’s also a good reminder of what we have.
In difficult times, he said, “you can choose to see the dark. Or you can be the light, and your goal is really to bring in the other lights in the community.