In the last hours of Hurricane Sandy and during the days that followed, many residents throughout Bayonne – which was almost completely without power for days – heard the sound of sirens. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles rushed from one place to another amid a flood of flashing lights surrounded by power-drained buildings on either side.
What was this all about? Were there so many emergencies going on all at once? How bad was the loss of life or property? What was going on out there?
For those who had prepared, buying batteries and other essentials, there was still much that radio news reports could not tell them, such as the fact that emergency personnel had moved in to evacuate the hospital.
Bayonne, along with Hoboken and sections of Jersey City, was particularly hard hit, but few areas suffered as much as the Country Village section on the Bayonne-Jersey City border, where waters rising up from Newark Bay washed around and through homes, leaving residences there devastated.
Louis Manzo, former freeholder from Jersey City and former state assemblyman, lives on the Newark Bay side of Jersey City.
“My house was devastated – engulfed by water which surrounded it for days,” Manzo said. “I finally walked two blocks in waist-deep water. Lots of my neighbors are frightened seniors and I am trying to help them. You have no idea. Still a bit dazed.”
Ray Greaves, 3rd Ward Councilman in Bayonne, whose district covers that portion of the city, said Country Village suffered some of the worst damage in his ward.
“It was inundated by flood water,” he said. “Every house was affected, water rushed through garages. In some cases cars floated out of the garage doors. Many cars were destroyed. Basements were flooded.”
Greaves said staff from the Department of Public Works rushed into the area during and after the storm to help people living there.
“Some of these people lost everything,” Greaves said. “Our guys are working around the clock to deal with the debris left after the storm. The Fire Department is going door to door checking gas lines and electrical systems to make sure they are secure for when the power comes back on. We are also trying to secure broken windows and broken doors.”
Emergency personnel and other city workers are also going door to door to help seniors and children get to shelters, many of whom were brought to Nicholas Oresko School, which – with its back up generator – served as a primary shelter for the city.
“People are trying to cope with the situation,” Greaves said. “People there are very resilient. They are helping each other.”
Officials have been directing hot meals to the area, and the Red Cross has been very active, Greaves said.
“Some of these people have nowhere else to go. They have no transportation and they haven’t even been able to walk to a shelter,” he added.
Elsewhere in the city: traffic, power problems
Some residents elsewhere in the city said they were unaware of shelters being available. Without power, they were unable to access internet information. The city does have a reverse 9-1-1 phone system that alerts residents about such conditions, but these residents said they did not receive calls. Many said more should have been done to inform people in other parts of the city.
Lack of power throughout the city has been a major issue. Although PSE&G promised to have the city fully restored by mid-week, some residents said they did not believe it would happen.
“Lack of electric is a big issue in recovery,” said Jason O’Donnell, public safety director for the city.
Although the city has been coming back in stages, some residents were still without power as late as Monday afternoon.
While apparently there was a fire in midtown during the storm, most of the sirens people heard were in response to carbon monoxide alarms – or what they thought were alarms being triggered by things such as generator use.
“In some cases it’s the alarm batteries going bad,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a different sound but people do not know the difference and call us.”
The city has to respond to each call as if it is life-threatening.
Meanwhile the city has been feeding people at the shelters and elsewhere.
“We’ve been feeding thousands,” O’Donnell said. “Our volunteers are working non-stop.”
Police have been very busy, not only dealing with the traffic issue with downed trees, utility poles, and a lack of traffic lights, but also the long lines at the gas stations. At one point, only six stations in the city had power, and some of the lines waiting for gas extended for 30 or more blocks.
Greaves said the city has distributed many meals to people in houses without power, driving them into areas that were flooded and seeking to bring people to shelters who have no heat or electricity.
“One of the biggest problems we’re having is that people do not want to leave their homes,” he said.
Public transportation has been returning with bus services as late as Monday afternoon being nearly 90 percent restored.
Gasoline is in short supply, Greaves said, although he expected this to change soon for the better as refineries began to distribute again.
“Recovery will be slow, but hopefully steady,” he said. “Bayonne people are tough and they are helping each others. We’re also trying to get information on FEMA to people, handing out literature and contact information.”
“My house was devastated – engulfed by water which surrounded it for days,” – Lou Manzo
BEOF, Trinity and La Pelusa help out
Ana Quintela, executive director of the Bayonne Equal Opportunity Foundation (BEOF) which oversees many of the senior and poverty programs for the city, said responding to the needs of residents as been overwhelming.
“We’ve been working non-stop,” she said. “We’ve been feeding about 600 people per day.”
The Meals on Wheels program has continued to deliver meals to homebound people and also checking on their welfare.
“People have also been generous with us,” Quintela said.
Tropicana sent cartons of juice, and United Way donated food. Tyson foods set up a truck station behind the senior buildings near Avenue A and has been cooking chickens and providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for residents.
“Tyson has been working with us,” she said. “We picked up 600 pieces of chicken to distribute to our residents in all of our buildings.”
William Archiello, owner of Archie’s Cab Co., started an online collection that has produced a host of supplies that are going to be distributed from the BEOF offices at 555 JFK Boulevard.
“We’re separating the things now and encourage people to come down to our offices if they need something,” Quintela said.
This includes toys, board games, stuffed animals, men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, shoes, diapers, maternity clothing, coats, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, pocketbooks, quilts, and infant supplies.
“I spoke with Archie and he would like to offer his services to pick up donations for BEOF,” Quintela said. Anyone needing Archie’s cabs to pick up donations should call (201) 858-8800.
Trinity Parish, which operates the Windmill Alliance, has also been active.
“Both the church and H.I.G.H.W.A.Y.S. and I got electricity on Friday,” said The Rev. Rose Hassan.
“Since then we opened up Trinity Parish on Saturday and Sunday for people who wanted to charge electronics and get warm,” she added.
Trinity Parish provided coffee and dinner, donated by Mona Lisa, for residents on Saturday. Milk was donated by President of the Bayonne Chamber of Commerce Vincent Virga. H.I.G.H.W.A.Y.S. will remain open and will continue to take donations of furniture, housewares, clothing, food, and more and donate them to people who will need the items as a result of the storm.
Rev. Hassan said, “We are taking donations and will work with other organizations to see how the money may be best spent helping victims of the storm. Ana [Quintela] and I will be meeting on Wednesday to see how we can coordinate.”
The Gary La Pelusa Civic Association is also helping out. For those members of the community who are without power, St. Vincent’s Church, located at 979 Avenue C, will serve hot drinks and refreshments from 5 to 7 p.m. for approximately the next week.