While most of North Bergen and Guttenberg were restored to full power by 5:35 a.m. Friday, for some reason, a pocket of homes in the northwestern portion of the town went without electricity until around 11 a.m. Saturday morning.
Public Service Electric & Gas spokespeople say that don't understand why some portions of the area were restored before others, only that they knew that restoration would be returned "in phases."
But that was not a consolation to residents who didn't have power for a full day, while their neighbors did.
"I don't understand it," said Lucy Rojas, who lives in the northern part of the town. "I guess I just have to accept it, but my sister lives four blocks away and she had electricity that night and I didn't get it until Saturday. We all tried to remain as calm and cool as possible. I sent my kids to my sister's house to get cool."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who stayed up the entire evening traveling around the township to calm any fears of the residents, applauded the efforts of everyone for handling the blackout so well.
"I'm very proud of the way the town operated and the way the people handled everything," Sacco said. "I was pleased with the outcome and pleased with the people. I observed people sitting outside their homes. It gave them an opportunity to get to talk to their neighbors. Everyone seemed to remain positive in a very trying situation."
Sacco said that the township's Office of Emergency Management, under the direction of Richard Censullo, who also serves as the health director, kicked into action soon after it was known that the blackout was widespread and apparently lengthy.
"We put extra police officers out to insure the safety of the town," Sacco said. "The North Hudson Regional and our full ambulance squad were out there all night."
According to the town's police director John LoPresto, Guttenberg also added extra police officers to its general patrol while the blackout went on.
Censullo said that there were a few medical emergencies, like people on oxygen generators and respirators whose battery pack didn't function after the blackout.
"We had a child who was on a ventilator, who required emergency attention because the batteries had run down," Censullo said. "We had a lot of calls from seniors who were out of breath from having to climb stairs. We were in constant contact with Palisades Medical Center and they were taking in as many people as they could. But it all went pretty well, except for the one fatality."
Former resident killed
Jose Soto, a 29-year-old Jersey City resident and father of two, with another on the way, was killed around 1 a.m. when the 2004 Acura he was driving collided with a dump truck as the two vehicles were entering the intersection of Tonnelle Avenue and Route 3 East. Soto was a long-time resident of North Bergen before moving to Jersey City last year.
Although police officers were directing traffic at other intersections affected by the blackout, there was no police presence at that heavily traveled area.
Soto's car went right into the back of the dump truck and was crushed. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
A makeshift memorial, complete with candles and balloons saying "I Love You, Jose," and "Chito," his nickname, was erected at the site of the accident. The truck driver was not injured and was not cited for any traffic violations.
"It really was an unfortunate fatality," Sacco said.
After the power started to return, Richard Censullo had to change hats - from OEM director to health director. It was his department's responsibility to see that all of the supermarkets, grocery stores and delicatessens had properly disposed of food that might have spoiled during the course of the blackout.
Some of the supermarkets, like the Pathmark on 59th Street and Tonnelle Avenue, used quick thinking to preserve all the food they could.
"When the power went out in our stores, we knew right away what we had to do," said Rich Savner, the director of public affairs for Pathmark's 69 stores throughout the New York metropolitan area. "We had backup generators that went to work right away. We knew that it was an unusual circumstance and knew within the first half hour that we had to react quickly, because we knew that the power was going to be out for an extended period of time."
Savner said that Pathmark procured 2,000 blocks of dry ice that were used to try to retain refrigeration. Many foods were quickly stored in a locked freezer that maintained the necessary temperature, even without power.
"We put covers in our frozen food departments and blankets in our dairy cases to keep the refrigeration as best as possible," Savner said. "The losses in our North Bergen Pathmark were minimal compared to the New York stores, where the losses were more extensive."
Savner said that the North Bergen Pathmark remained open until midnight, with the staff working hard to help needy customers.
"I think at the trying times, our associates rise to the occasion," Savner said. "I think once people knew that it wasn't a deliberate act, there was a sense of calm with the customers and with our employees as well." Naim Haddad, the owner of the Foodland Supermarket on Bergen Turnpike, also remained open through the crisis.
"They were buying water, soda, flashlights, batteries," Haddad said. "I stayed busy throughout the night. We had double the business we normally do."
Haddad said that he also worked fast to preserve his foods.
"I threw away nothing," Haddad said. "I thought I was going to have to throw a lot out, but the freezer kept its cold. I was really lucky."
Some businesses weren't so lucky. A Bergenline Avenue ice cream store lost its entire inventory and was spotted a day later washing all the melted ice cream from its floors.
Gary Hashway of Hashway Delicatessen and Catering also experienced small losses.
"I didn't do an inventory of what we lost, but it wasn't much," Hashway said. "Some milk, cheese, some meats were lost. Anything that was valuable was put in the freezer and the freezer was sealed and kept a good temperature for the 10 hours we were without power. We were fortunate. I can't put a dollar figure on what we lost, but I think we were one of the lucky ones. We fared pretty well."
Hashway said that his suppliers brought fresh products Friday morning and he was back in business.
"It was almost like it never happened," Hashway said.
After examining the town's hundreds of food stores, Censullo and his staff reported very few violations of businesses trying to sell rotten food.
"I was really impressed with the stores," Censullo said. "No one was hiding anything. They were very cooperative and doing the right thing."
Censullo said that residents should still be on the lookout for any possible stomach viruses or food poisoning that may be a result of tainted food spoiled during the blackout.
On Wednesday, it was learned that any police overtime costs related to the blackout will be picked up by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). More than $600,000 was spent in police overtime in Hudson County, the largest in the state. The precise costs on overtime for North Bergen and Guttenberg were not available at press time.