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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea