After the floodwaters of Hurricane Sandy receded, many tales of heroism emerged – and are still emerging, since most local residents were without power for days after the storm.
During the storm surge, a police officer was captured on camera taking three frightened residents on his shoulders and carrying them onto a payloader. The footage was aired on CNN.
The officer turned out to be Leo Colon, who lived in Hoboken all of his life and has been a police officer for ten years.
A bridge over troubled water
In the heart of the storm, Officer Colon and Mayor Dawn Zimmer were traveling in a payloader vehicle westbound on Newark Street, intending to survey the damage. Colon then heard a woman screaming, trapped inside of her vehicle as the water rose between three or four feet. She was petite, with the water up to her chest.
Colon picked up the woman and brought her to the payloader.
“I didn’t know anything then about downed power lines,” Colon said. “I always have the mindset, what if this was my mother or my wife or my sister, and I did what I had to do.”
Shortly thereafter, another man was in a similar predicament. Colon then did the same for him, putting the man over his shoulder and taking him out of harm’s way.
“I always have the mindset – What if that was your mother, your wife, your sister.” – Officer Leo Colon
This was not the first time Colon, a former marine, saw a hurricane of this proportion.
“I went to a junior college in Miami and witnessed Hurricane Andrew,” said Colon. “You didn’t go outside for that one.”
But Colon has never witnessed this level of flooding in Hoboken.
“We had floods when we were kids,” he said. “Back then it was fun. We had no pools, so we jumped in the waters. We didn’t know.”
1,643 calls to police
In one week’s time, the Hoboken Fire Department received 935 calls and the Hoboken Police Department received 1,643. Despite the heroism, many obstacles stood in the way of officials doing their jobs.
The Hoboken Fire Department had three fire stations that had to be abandoned the night of the storm surge. Fire Chief Richard Blohm said Tuesday night at a special council meeting that the fire apparatus became contaminated and could not be used. Mayor Michael Gonnelli and the town of Secaucus leant their apparatus to Hoboken.
In one case, emergency workers couldn’t get within five blocks of a blown transformer because the roads were inaccessible. The Fire Department had to make use of inflatable boats, even to carry a woman and her wheel chair.
Radio communications failed and both Sprint and Verizon phones went down.
According to Police Chief Falco, four officers were injured during the storm. Eleven police vehicles and four motorcycles were made inoperable.
“There were superhuman efforts by everybody,” said Blohm.
“In 63 years, I have never seen such devastation in Hoboken,” said Falco. “I applaud the residents of Hoboken for persevering.”
Amanda Palasciano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.