In shadow of Lincoln Tunnel
In close-knit ‘Shades’ enclave, fighting spirit meets Sandy’s devastation
by Dean DeChiaro
Reporter Staff Writer
Nov 11, 2012 | 8762 views | 3 3 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
UNRECOGNIZABLE – Looking east on West 18th Street, debris litters the once-quiet Shades. In the background, a bulldozer works tirelessly to clean up.
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Chris Bate stood in his yard, unpacking crinkled family photos that had been stored in his Weehawken basement years ago. Laying them out on a makeshift drying rack, Bate reflected on the past week.

“The things you don’t think are going to happen, huh?” he said.

Bate is a resident of Weehawken’s small downtown neighborhood known as The Shades, a nickname derived from the close-knit neighborhood’s location beneath the cliffs of the Palisades hills.

As Weehawken’s topographical low point, Hurricane Sandy hit it hardest last week. Most of the neighborhood’s basements, garages, and ground floor apartments incurred serious flood damage. Water heaters, laundry machines, and even cars were destroyed.

A six-foot-tall watermark is visible on the exterior walls of St. Lawrence’s Church, the town’s primary Catholic parish. Inside the church, Bibles are strewn across the floor, and a piano lies toppled.


“All of a sudden it was gushing and it was 3 or 4 feet deep.” – Jack Biancamano


Mayor Richard Turner and other city officials said that they came to that neighborhood before the storm and suggested, then insisted, that residents evacuate. While most left, some chose to remain behind.

Those who stayed said the flood came quickly and violently.

“I was sitting in my living room, and I could see the water coming slowly, and then all of a sudden it was gushing and it was 3 or 4 feet deep,” said Jack Biancamano.

Many who did leave, such as Sarah Fishbein, returned later to a cruel reality.

“I carried my 3-year-old up the hill on Monday night after the water started rising, and when I came back, it was like this,” Fishbein said, gesturing towards her neighbor’s gutted garage. “It’s a lot of loss.”

The road to recovery

Weehawken’s spirited response to the disaster stands in stark comparison to the difficulties this neighborhood faces. The storm had barely passed when recovery efforts began, with cleanup crews led by the Department of Public Works and assisted by local volunteers gathering debris, assessing damage, and assisting residents.

“The cleaner it gets, the better I feel,” said resident Joyce Higgins. “These DPW guys have done an amazing, outstanding job. I don’t know what would be happening without them.”

In the days following the storm, St. Lawrence’s Community Room was transformed into a multi-purpose response center, providing hot meals, warmth, wi-fi, clothing, cleaning supplies and anything else victims required. But perhaps more than anything, it has provided a place where members of the community can convene, organize and support each other.

“We had mass in here on Sunday morning, and it was standing room only,” said Richard Barsa, the president of Weehawken’s Board of Education.

At mealtime as well, the shelter becomes lively and almost cheerful.

“Less people come around during the day because they’re working, but we’ve been serving dinner to a few hundred a night, both people who live here and are volunteering,” said James Marchetti, the township manager.

According to Mayor Turner, the town moved 105 families to the Sheraton Hotel in Lincoln Harbor, about 85 of whom were from The Shades.

Regarding the families who were relocated, Turner said, “The Sheraton has been fantastic throughout all of this, and Messina’s Trattoria, on the first floor there, has also contributed food and is feeding families there.”

In a whole lot of crazy, a bit of normal

Volunteers, including the mayor’s wife Eileen, have spent nearly every waking hour at St. Lawrence’s, working to restore some sense of normalcy to the once-quiet neighborhood. On Monday, the day on which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stated Halloween celebrations would take place, Mrs. Turner reflected on The Shades.

“This is the place you always brought your kids trick-or-treating. This was the best place in town for it,” she said.

That night, a school bus carried dressed-up children from The Shades up the hill to other Weehawken neighborhoods, where they trick-or-treated unencumbered by Sandy’s aftermath.

“This is what we do, this is how Weehawken works,” said Turner. “We pick each other up, we look out for our neighbors, and we help each other.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 14, 2012
Tristan your anger appears to be directed at the wrong perso/people. Reading the story the writer got the facts right, the mayor clearly did say to him that he went around evacuating. if the mayor is lying then your anger should be against the mayor. The story quotes several neighbors who didnt' say otherwise. I don't think anyone else outsie of the shades knows what really happened unless you speak out, so if your anger is how the town handled this, then place the blame where it belongs. the reporter could not know if turner is lying but if you do then please tell us.
November 14, 2012
We were NEVER asked or told to evacuate. In fact, when they came to tell us to move our cars I asked if the town was suggesting we evacuate and was told no. In all fairness to town officials, no one could have predicted flooding of this magnitude, but do not make is seem as if we ignored officials regarding evacuation. Also, as stated in the story the work of the DPW was above and beyond the call of duty both during the storm and after it. Along with police and fire officials, DPW was in the water that night helping residents get out. A BIG THANK YOU to the town officials, DPW workers and residents from all over town who pitched in to assists us in getting through this.
November 11, 2012
Dean DeChiaro you should really fact check your work. I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old. I live at 2 Grand Street. Would I really subject them to a lifeboat evacuation if I knew that would happen? All of my friends on this block have young children.. Would we ALL subject our infants, toddlers, and first graders to lifeboat rescues? Would our pregnant friend, who was alone since her husband was on a business trip, choose to stay in her home? Alone, By herself, 8 months pregnant?

My ENTIRE neighborhood was rescued by lifeboat, well over 75 people, Many of us have young children. We were NOT ordered to evacuate.

The town came by with sandbags and then told some of us to move our cars to UBS. People who had cars in the garage of their homes were told to leave them there. A police officer came by at 3:30 with a note stating that there was a state of emergency, again not an order of evacuation.


Since we were NOT ordered to evacuate, my hubby went outside during the storm to borrow something from a neighbor which saved our lives. He noticed the water coming UP from the drain. My hubby had our family move to a friend's unit with a balcony. From this balcony, the whole rescue effort of the neighborhood was coordinated. He yelled loudly. (I overheard a story from someone behind telling me he looked out his window because he heard someone yelling.) Everyone was told if they were in the building to get a count of the amount of children and total occupants in the building....Inside we wrote down the addresses and count of people inside the building. The first responders would check the number of people with us before they would move to the next building.

I evacuated during hurricane Irene because I only lived here for a month. Hoboken was ordered to evacuate so I figured since I was at the same elevation I should leave. I moved everything of value from our first floor to our second. We went to Westfield for the storm. We did not do the same for Sandy because there wasn't an evacuation order, and there wasnt any water damage on our block from hurricane Irene.