New York's neighbours face life after the storm

Manhattan may have been hit hard, but across the Hudson the damage is even worse

Hoboken, New Jersey

"Good afternoon. Can I have your attention, please?" volunteer Tom O'Connor called into a loudspeaker in the lobby of a Bloomfield Street apartment building whose residents were elderly people on low incomes.

Mr O'Connor, an international sales consultant, had come to ensure that the building's water was still available on the higher floors. Many residents were furious at the conditions.

"The elevators are dark," said Frank Bongiorno, 80, who had walked down 13 flights of stairs to the flooded street in search of somewhere to charge his mobile phone. "We've got a lot of people on respirators here. Why are they doing this?"

Two days after the superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast, rescue officials have become accustomed to working in flooded cities and battered beach towns that remain dangerous and chaotic, particularly in pockets of hard-hit New Jersey.

Large parts of this old factory city are still under water and pumps are working flat out to clear a toxic and potentially deadly mix of water, oil and sewage estimated at more than 500 million gallons. National Guard troops in four-wheel-drive trucks patrolled the flooded streets, trying to evacuate the most vulnerable of the city's 20,000 stranded residents, nearly half of Hoboken's population, who were told to stay inside and signal for help with pillowcases.

Dawn Zimmer, the mayor, stood in the gathering darkness on Wednesday afternoon and begged the outside world to send necessities such as torches, batteries, food, generator fuel and drinking water. "We ask anyone who's listening to deliver supplies to us," she said from the steps of City Hall, which was without power.

The mayor spoke over the sound of whirring water pumps and humming diesel generators. The smell of sewage, seeping up from storm drains, hung in the air on some of the city's streets. "If people who are listening have generators, we are asking you to bring them," Ms Zimmer said. "We are still very much in crisis mode."

The number of victims claimed by Sandy in the US had risen to at least 82 by last night – the majority of them in New York. But across the Hudson River in New Jersey, state officials reported at least 14 dead; and here the scope of the damage, which runs from beach communities to ageing cities, appears to dwarf that in New York.

Thousands of Hoboken residents stayed either because they had nowhere to go or because getting out was too difficult. They wandered the streets or drifted toward the handful of working generators to charge their mobile phones and try to renew contact with the outside world. The historic clocks lining Washington Street, the main thoroughfare, all showed the time as 9.03pm – the moment when the city lost power on Monday.

Nonetheless, amid the devastation signs of progress were apparent. Local power company officials, aided by crews from nine states, estimated that they had restored electricity to about 500,000 New Jersey residents. For some, though, the wait for power was expected to be as much as 10 days.

This once-gritty industrial city has become a haven for younger professionals seeking a cheaper alternative to Manhattan. In Hoboken's neighbourhoods, they mix with immigrants and older residents who came to the city decades earlier to work in its factories.

Inside the darkened City Hall, built in the 19th century, a volunteer operation took shape, with young people lining up to pick up torches and addresses where older residents might need help.

"Can I have the Spanish-speaking people raise their hands," a volunteer co-ordinator shouted. "It is very hectic right now."

National Guard trucks have ferried evacuees to City Hall. From there, those who were able to walked to Jersey City to find friends or relatives who could take them to a safer, drier place. Others were taken to shelters.

But for many of the vulnerable, volunteers like Mr O'Connor were the first contact. Wilbert Rivera, who has survived on disability benefits for four years, sat on the kerb near City Hall.

The 46-year-old native Puerto Rican rolled up his right trouser leg to show a swollen knee and complained that he was in pain. He had finally been rescued by the National Guard from his flooded block late on Wednesday afternoon.

"Gout," he said, pointing to his throbbing leg. "Waiting to hospital, please."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants