With most of Bayonne dealing with a blackout this week, as well as flooded homes, massive trees along the ground, and no source of food, cash, or gas, the city’s 63,700 residents were struggling to recover from a once-in-a-lifetime hurricane called Sandy as the weekend arrived.
Even before Sandy came ashore near Atlantic City on Sunday night, huge swaths of Bayonne shores were already feeling the effect as flood waters rose over the banks on three sides of the city, pouring into industrial areas on the east side along Avenue J and Hook Road and over the barriers at the former Military Ocean Terminal. High tides, a full moon, and wind-driven waves drove water into the lower portion of Stephen Gregg County Park in the northwest section of the city from Newark Bay and filled the streets near the foot of the Bayonne Bridge near the Kill Van Kull on the south side of the city.
High winds forced the closure of Bayonne Bridge in a storm city officials called unprecedented in its effect. While weaker hurricanes have soaked the area, a direct hit to the Jersey Shore is a rare occurrence.
The city declared a state of emergency early in the storm and set a curfew as of 6 p.m. on Monday just before the storm struck the state. City officials urged people to get their vehicles off the roads.
A surge of rising water from Newark Bay flooded six of the PSE&G switching stations and forced caused significant portions of Hudson and Essex counties and all of Bayonne to lose power.
“This is my 40th year doing this, and for the first time, I can say I’ve seen it all.” – Mickey McCabe
“This has been a very challenging experience,” said Mickey McCabe, head of the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management, who said that a generator purchased prior to the storm allowed the office communications to remain up and running, including the 911 phone system.
McCabe said waves of water flowed in so fast in the area of First Street that rescue workers had to wade into five feet of water through rapids to rescue people. Rescuers included Mayor Mark Smith and Public Safety Director Jason O’Donnell. Roofs flying off of garages took down power lines that caused people to suffer electrical shocks near Hobart Avenue. The trailer park on 24th Street and Newark Bay started to slide into the bay, McCabe said.
“Calls have been coming in non-stop,” McCabe said.
The city of Bayonne had two shelters, but the most effective was the shelter at Nicholas Oresko School, which was constructed with back up generator that allowed emergency officials to turn it into a junior medical center, where people with some medical conditions could be brought.
“We had an EMT monitoring the situation there for 24 hours a day,” he said.
The county has had to evacuate two hospitals, Hoboken University Medical Center on Sunday, and then Palisades General in North Bergen on Monday. Their emergency rooms continued to operate, but they wanted to move patients before flooding occurred.
“That’s never been done in Hudson County before,” he said.
As county OEM official, McCabe said the evacuation of HUMC involved a fleet of more than 50 ambulances from around the state starting at about 5 p.m. on Sunday and ending in the early morning hours on Monday.
At about midnight on Monday into Tuesday, Palisades Hospital started to take on water and the county moved in with buses and ambulances to transport more than 100 patients out of that facility.
Jersey City Medical Center during the height of the storm was closed temporarily and Christ Hospital closed briefly so that for a time only Bayonne Medical Center and other outlying hospitals were available to handle emergencies.
“This is my 40th year doing this, and for the first time, I can say I’ve seen it all,” McCabe said. “This was the most challenging, devastating, all encompassing disaster I have ever seen. This isn’t even something we’ve plotted out in training.”
When asked for a statement Thursday, Mayor Mark Smith focused on releasing emergency information. He asked residents to try to share information with neighbors who might not have telephone or internet service.
“Bayonne’s emergency management personnel continue to respond to the aftermath of the storm,” he said. “We need all residents to continue to avoid unnecessary travel and to stay off the streets if at all possible. Please be advised that Bayonne’s water supply continues to be available and safe for all uses. The water is NOT being turned off. Likewise, gas service continues to be available and is NOT being turned off.
“The city continues to operate emergency shelters at two locations. If you are safe in your home, please stay there. If you need to be relocated to a shelter or if you need any other assistance, please call our emergency operations center at 201-858-7183 or 201-858-7184.
Bayonne Medical Center is open for emergency purposes only. All outpatient services are cancelled until further notice.
Trash and recycling pick-up will be on a normal schedule, and we urge you to empty your freezers and refrigerators and dispose of the contents, if necessary.
Please check the city website at www.bayonnenj.org, or remain by your phone for updates. Please be safe and take care of each other.”
Ryan said city hall generators had maintained partial power to offices there, but schools as a Wednesday and city hall offices remained close to normal business.
Called the worst storm in New Jersey history, lack of power has been one of the significant issues along with flooding throughout the county. One death was reported in Jersey City at the end of the week, but the toll may continue to grow, particularly since some people are not able to use their phones to call in an emergency.
New Jersey Transit, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and the PATH system were all closed due to flooding and fallen trees. Flooding affected low lying areas throughout the county and about 500,000 in the Essex and Hudson county areas were among the 2.4 million statewide without power.
Richard Dywer of PSE&G said experts from as far away as Texas and Canada were being brought in to evaluate the conditions so that power could be restored. Concerns about power can be made to PSE&G at 800-436-7734.
In Bayonne, urgent issues can be reported to the operation centers at 201-858 -7183 or 201-858-7184.