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
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola, writes Ian Herbert
News
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Designer / Design Director

£38000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This B2B content marketing agen...

Austen Lloyd: Law Costs HOD - Southampton

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: An outstanding new...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn