It’s the kind of tragedy that ravages other parts of the country and the world, but it finally happened to Hudson County’s 641,000 residents – after years of hurricane predictions that failed to bear out.
The National Guard was called into Hoboken Wednesday, and every other Hudson County town (Jersey City, Bayonne, Weehawken, North Bergen, Secaucus, and more) dealt with flooding, downed power lines, dangerous roads, and spotty phone service after Hurricane Sandy made a direct hit to the Jersey Shore Monday night, a rare occurrence that flung trees against power lines and flooded streets, trapping thousands of people inside their homes.
Even those who stored food and took safety precautions found new challenges days after the storm passed on Tuesday, as supermarkets could not open without power, gas stations lacked supplies and power, ATMs could not function, doctors’ offices were closed, several hospitals were open only for emergency service, and borders of some cities were closed to non-residents.
As October turned to November in the middle of the week, nights grew colder and many had no heat.
There were positive moments in the disaster, including when residents of an area of Hoboken that had power – the region around 11th and Garden streets – threaded extension cords outside their windows and posted signs saying residents could come recharge their cell phones, which had drained in a day or two. One household even cooked eggs for the neighbors.
“This is my 40th year doing this, and for the first time, I can say I’ve seen it all.” – Mickey McCabe
Conditions were more serious in the most flood-prone areas of local cities. The national news said that 20,000 people were trapped in homes in downtown Hoboken as gas-filled flood waters swirled around their doors. Mayor Dawn Zimmer appeared on TV asking people to send supplies to town. The National Guard arrived on Wednesday, and by Thursday, Duracell had come in with free batteries, and the city announced food giveaways on Third Street.
Hoboken and Jersey City issued evacuation orders for the first floors of low-lying areas late on Sunday, the day before the storm made landfall, and years of storms that failed to live up to the hype might have made otherwise savvy residents unaware of the impending destruction. In fact, during Hurricane Irene a year ago, residents were warned earlier to leave, and the storm turned out weaker than expected.
Several area towns issued curfews Monday afternoon into Tuesday, hoping to keep residents away from dangerous downed power lines.
In Hudson County, the storm carried high winds and some rain Monday night into Tuesday morning, but the storm’s effects were worse after it left.
“This has been a very challenging experience,” said Mickey McCabe, an official with the county’s Office of Emergency Management.
The county has had to evacuate two hospitals, Hoboken University Medical Center on Sunday, and then Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen on Monday, as the areas began flooding. Their emergency rooms continued to operate for a time, but they moved most patients.
“That’s never been done in Hudson County before,” McCabe said.
Jersey City Medical Center during the height of the storm was closed temporarily and Christ Hospital closed briefly.
“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.”
Among all of the other effects of the storm, streetlights were out, with no police monitoring most intersections.
One witness said she saw a 5-year-old child hit by a car in the dark in Jersey City on Wednesday of last week, while the child was walking with his parents. The number of injured and dead in the storm may continue to grow, particularly since some people are not able to use their phones to call in an emergency.
In Bayonne, Mayor Mark Smith said as of Thursday that the water was still drinkable, and that rumors that the water supply was going to be shut off were not true.
New Jersey Transit, the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and the PATH system were all closed due to flooding and fallen trees. About 500,000 people in the Essex and Hudson county areas were among the 2.4 million statewide without power.
Richard Dwyer 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.
Each town issued emergency information on their web sites.
To help New Jersey residents as they clean up their homes, the Department of Health made health experts available starting Thursday through the state's 2-1-1 system to answer questions about food and water safety and mold removal.
To reach health experts, call 2-1-1 or 1-866-234-0964. Public Health officials will be available to take calls 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 5 pm on weekends. The 2-1-1 human services hotline is open 24/7.
Paper publishes without power
Both of the Hudson Reporter's offices are located in Bayonne and Hoboken and remained without power all week, but the staff was able to work from a room in Palisades Medical Center to get print editions out this weekend. The paper is posting updates and information at hudsonreporter.com.
In Jersey City and Hoboken
Many residents tried to take the storm in stride last week.
Doug Bastone, a downtown Jersey City resident, said he wasn’t quite sure where his car was.
He was out of town on business in New Mexico when the storm came. He had asked a friend to move his car on street cleaning days.
"I guess he was at his girlfriend’s place in Brooklyn when the storm was coming and he just decided to stay out there and he just forgot about my car," said Bastone. "He figured my street wasn't in a flood prone area. And I guess he wasn't really keeping up with what's was going on. And, to be honest, I didn't grasp how important the storm was for this part of Jersey City.”
He joked, “If you happen to know someone who wants a 1997 Honda Civic, with almost 200,000 miles on it, let me know.”
At press time last week, Ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop, who represents the downtown area, released numbers and other information residents can use to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency can be contacted at http://www.disasterassistance.gov. Residents can also reach FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA (1-800-621-3362).
A story in the Huffington Post quoted residents of Hoboken as complaining that the city issued evacuation orders much later this year than for Hurricane Irene last year. After the story was posted, it elicited more than 100 reader comments from around the country, some saying that Northeastern residents were lazy liberals who expected the government to do everything for them, others saying Hoboken’s geography is unique and can’t be understood by outsiders.
In West New York, Union City, and Weehawken
In West New York, Mayor Felix Roque expressed an admiration of the city’s DPW workers in the direct aftermath of the storm, citing in particular an average response time of 5 minutes for calls regarding downed trees, of which he said there were about 150.
Flood victims and the elderly in that dense waterfront town were brought to Palisades Medical Center, but once it flooded, patients were evacuated to Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center (MHMC). Meanwhile, MHMC CEO Lynn McVey set up a temporary triage center on 60th and Bergenline.
Some citizens pitched in to relieve rescue workers, including Alex Duran, who owns the Son Cubano restaurant in Port Imperial. After the restaurant lost power and began to flood, Duran decided that rather than waste what perishable food was in the restaurant, he donated it.
“We took all of our desserts and other perishables and sent them up to City Hall, and Mayor Roque made sure they got to firemen and DPW guys working around the community,” Duran said.
In Union City, Chief of Police Brian Barrett reported that as of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 50 percent of residents had regained power. While it is usually viewed by the city as an economic hindrance, Chief Barrett noted that in the case of Hurricane Sandy, Union City’s lack of a waterfront was a blessing in disguise, as much of the damage incurred by neighboring towns was avoided.
In Weehawken, which hugs the Hudson River, the entire town lost power, but some power was restored on Thursday. Flood damage was limited to The Shades, an area that Mayor Richard Turner vowed would be restored to its former self. No fatalities or serious injuries occurred, and the modern building codes to which recent real estate developments are held prevented any serious flood damage occurring along much of the town’s waterfront.
In North Bergen
In North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco and response teams worked during the night on Monday, Oct, 29, dealing with power outages and over 200 downed trees. They also helped after Palisades Medical Center’s generators failed. Mayor Sacco, Deputy Police Chief Robert Dowd, Lieutenant Robert Farley, Detective Michael Derin and Department of Public Works employee Dave Gomez brought two new generators through the water that flooded into the hospital overnight. According to a press release, the generators that were brought in served as a power source for 13 patients on life support systems until they were able to be evacuated the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The hospital was functioning again later in the week.
“This was a massive, unprecedented storm that created many challenges and potentially deadly situations,” said Mayor Sacco. “If we had not been able to bring the generators to the hospital the next option would have been removing life-support dependent patients by boat. I am extremely proud of the efforts of our entire public safety team for helping us make it through this storm without any casualties.”
In Secaucus, more than 70 people had to be rescued from their homes and taken to one of the four shelters that were open.
"It is a mess," said Mayor Michael Gonnelli last week. "This is worse than last time."
Many residents echoed the sentiments of the mayor and said the super storm was much worse than the destruction from Irene.
"The water destroyed all utilities...the boiler and gas," said David Montero, who lives on 10th Street. He was at his neighbor Maria Rodriquez's home. While Montero had moved to 10th Street just this past May, Rodriguez has lived on 10th Street for more than nine years. She had six feet of water in her lower level.
"It was horrible," said Rodriguez.
The tidal storm raised the levels of the Hackensack River and surrounding marshes. The water swept into basements and first floors and damaged homes in areas that were flooded along Farm Road, Acorn, Oak, Gail Place, Valley Court, Millridge Road, 10th Street, Huber Street, and Meadowlands Parkway.
The mayor's home was among those experienced damage from the storm.
Trick or treat
Despite these tricks, there are treats in store. At the behest of Gov. Chris Christie, Halloween has been postponed until Monday, Nov. 5. The fate of local and national elections scheduled for the next day remains to be seen.
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