Days before Hurricane Sandy hit the center of the state, its winds uprooting trees and ripping off roofs, the Bayonne school district began to make plans for the storm itself and its aftermath.
According to a report prepared for the Bayonne School District, planning meetings started on Oct. 25, five days before the storm’s arrival.
“At this point, the path was still uncertain,” the report said. “The Board of Education was asked to utilize its facilities, resources and manpower in order to insure that if our residents were displaced for the short or long term that we would provide for them.”
Four days later, when the path was better known, officials met again. Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan canceled classes for Oct. 29. School yards were opened for residential parking, and two schools, Midtown Community School and the Nicholas Oresko School, were opened on Monday at 8 a.m. as designated evacuation shelters.
“The school district transportation and repair department was put on high alert and made available to move residents and supplies to the evacuation centers and to tend to our facilities,” the report said.
During the height of the storm that Monday, these shelters accepted residents, and school drivers were transporting and assisting in resident evacuations.
BPD, BFD, BMC did their part
According to City Business Administrator Steve Gallo, the Police and Fire Departments handled more than 2,000 calls for service combined during the hurricane and the blackout. The Fire and Police Departments rescued more than 150 people during the hurricane and its immediate aftermath.
“Our shelters had over 400 citizens in residence,” the school report said. “Along with the Office of Emergency Management we were able to shelter and provide food for them.”
Bayonne school vehicles were also used to make round trips to the County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) site in Secaucus during the storm to pick up much-needed supplies.
“On Tuesday, Oct. 30, with the city totally without power, it became obvious that this would be a long-term event,” said the school report.
Fortunately, some schools suffered only minor flooding damage, but because of the loss of power, the district lost refrigerated and frozen food items. The ice rink suffered water damage to various electrical motors, generators and associated parts. Lincoln Community School and Dr. Walter F. Robinson School had some roof damage. The staff thus far has completed temporary repairs.
Meanwhile, Bayonne Medical Center began to divert patients to the Oresko School Shelter.
“Their issues ranged from those just needing to use power for their devices, nebulizers, oxygen machines, etc., to those with dementia, tracheotomies and non-critical issues,” the school report said.
“On Tuesday, Oct. 30, with the city totally without power, it became obvious that this would be a long-term event.” – School report on the storm
The district opened additional schools as distribution centers where residents could pick up food and supplies. On Wednesday, the school food services began cranking out 700 lunches a day for distribution to senior citizens. This continued until Monday, Nov. 5.
In coordination with the County of Hudson, the City is providing two locations for Bayonne residents to apply for Disaster Food Assistance on Wednesday, Nov. 28, Gallo said.
During the hurricane and blackout emergency, the City of Bayonne coordinated the provision of 105,000 meals to permanent residents of senior apartment houses, Housing Authority tenants, and residents of the temporary shelters set up in local schools. The City of Bayonne operated three points of distribution for issuing donated food.
The food included provisions that were bought locally, meals provided by the Red Cross, and dinners prepared by Tyson, Goya, and other generous companies in the food business.
In order to assist the public with keeping cell phones charged, the City of Bayonne set up charging stations at three public schools that served as shelters, at City Hall, and at three fire houses.
“On Thursday, Nov. 1, with the city regaining some lost power, we started to see a slight decline in our census of our evacuation sites,” the school report noted.
Shelters were still needed, however, because temperatures had started to drop outside.
While many people returned their homes, lack of power prevented them from getting heat. Shelter operations were moved to the ice rink while school officials began to task getting schools open again for classes.
School district ordered more than 200 pizzas to feed the staff working at various school facilities.
On Nov. 10, three box trucks, two school buses and drivers were made available to the city to help transport needed supplies sent to Newark Penn Station from Louisiana, which were later distributed from Midtown Community School.
According to a city report, the OEM distributed more than 600 cleaning kits in Bayonne.
At Midtown Community School, the City of Bayonne’s emergency operation distributed hundreds of thousands of pounds of relief supplies. The supplies included food, water, clothing, and batteries, among other items. City representatives coordinated three post-hurricane tours of Bayonne with FEMA.
The City has requested that FEMA set up a Disaster Recovery Center at the Bayonne Community Museum. This request is under consideration by FEMA. In the meantime, FEMA continues to operate an emergency facility in the Council Chambers at City Hall.
OEM coordinated the procurement of gasoline and diesel that fueled emergency vehicles and emergency generators during the crisis. OEM also carried out site inspections of senior housing to prepare for the installation of emergency generators. Two generators were installed during the blackout. Four other locations were awaiting the installation of the generators when the power came back on.
The City of Bayonne held a town meeting hosted by Mayor Mark A. Smith shortly after much of the power was restored. The meeting provided residents with information on ways to seek compensation for damages and losses caused during the hurricane and blackout.
OEM is coordinating efforts with other local public sector agencies to write grant requests to recover costs and damages associated with the hurricane and the blackouts. The OEM is working with the Board of Education, the Housing Authority, the Municipal Utilities Authority, and City departments to track and document local expenditures.