One Year Since Hurricane Sandy: How Far We’ve Come, and What’s Next

Exchange Place after Hurricane Sandy

It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy ravaged Jersey City, and we’ve come a long way in rebuilding, recovering and healing.

On Oct. 30, 2012, much of the city woke up in the darkness. The power was out. The next few weeks would be a post-apocalyptic, dystopian nightmare. Lines for gas, food and candles stretched for what seemed like miles. Remnants of landmarks and structures ravaged by the wind like the Jersey Avenue Footbridge were strewn about the city. The return of the PATH train system was painfully slow, with weeks and months between its first new breaths, its curfews and finally, its full-fledged rebirth.

Some of the damage took even longer to repair. The Main Library was forced to close temporarily, and institutions like the Liberty Humane Society, Jersey City Medical Center and even City Hall were hit hard. Some areas went days and weeks without power–Bright Street in Downtown Jersey City became a bit of a misnomer, with dark street for three weeks. Thousands were displaced from their homes.

Low-lying areas of the city like Downtown and Country Village were devastated, many recording over seven feet of water in their basements. Clay and Sandy Cockrell, who live on Mercer Street near City Hall, were hit hard and their theater company, J CITY Theater, was only able to bounce back with its first full production earlier this month. The Newport and Hudson mall areas, which were flooded by the Hudson and Hackensack rivers, respectively, were still recovering five months after the storm. Local businesses like Taqueria and Edward’s Steakhouse in Paulus Hook and Skylark on the Hudson in Newport also had to repair, remodel and reopen, finding ways to make their new digs as waterproof as possible.

Water-logged items in Country Village

If Sandy left us with anything, it’s aquaphobia. Walls can be repaired, floors can be replaced, appliances can be lifted off the ground, but our minds can’t be repaired, replaced or lifted. They’re bogged down with the profound fear that another storm will come and wash everything we’ve worked for away. Again. Unfortunately, reports on climate change predict that things will only get worse. According to Climate Central’s Surging Seas sea-level analysis, six percent of JC residents are at risk to suffer in flooded areas under five feet of water. That number jumps to 9 percent under six feet, 13 percent under seven, and 22 percent under 10.

A new report card released by the NJ Sierra Club says we have a lot to do to prepare for  another storm. The report looked at factors like leadership, responsiveness, policy and planning, action and outcomes of several groups. Overall, Gov. Chris Christie got a D; the DEP and DCA, an F; state legislature, a C-; and President Barack Obama and federal agencies, a C+.

“The purpose of the scorecard is not to point fingers; it is a call for action,” said NJ Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel in a statement. “It is about what has happened over the last year- what’s been good, bad, and where changes are needed. It doesn’t really matter what the grades are, what matters is that people are still suffering…While boardwalks have been rebuilt, thousands of people are still out of their homes.

“Instead of fixing the mistakes of the past, we tend to be repeating them. If we do not deal with sea level rise and climate change it is a failure for all of us.”

Volunteers from the Jersey City Sandy Recovery at the Barrow Mansion

Terrible as she was, Sandy brought us together. We united, or pitching in however we could. While there were traditional forms of help available like the $2.5 million in aid from FEMA and Stronger NJ Business Grants for small businesses damaged by Sandy (there’s still time to apply–deadline is Oct. 31), scrappier campaigns have also made a big impact.

A local 10-year-old, Peter Coar, sold bracelets to raise over $3,000 for Sandy relief. A team of local community activists banded together to form Jersey City Sandy Recovery, which brought supplies and other resources to people around the city from their base at the Barrow Mansion. Another group that cropped up, the Hudson County Long-Term Recovery Committee, held a door-to-door survey and is planning how to best prepare the community for another storm as well as continue recovering from last year’s disturbance.

Local art organizations, artists and musicians banded together to organize fundraising events to help Sandy victims and to rebuild local landmarks like the Riverview-Fisk Park Gazebo. Next month, several local artists are organizing Art Surge, a procession through the flood zones from Hamilton Park to Liberty State Park that will end with a celebration of JC’s creative spirit. There will also be music, art and theater inspired by locals’ real-life experiences with Sandy that they will share at a series of story circles which will be held from 2 to 4:30 pm on Nov. 3rd and 10th (the first was held Oct. 27) at 225 Montgomery St.

While our warm feelings for our neighbors may have receded some in the past months, we can all remember how immediately after the rain clouds passed and the winds wore down, people gathered together around communal charging stations and had candlelit dinners over canned goods and coffee.

This year, we got lucky. No Irene or Sandy wannabes came into town. But what about 2014? Besides each other, our best defenses will be new flood maps, new building regulations, new community organizations and a new awareness.

Photos by Laura Greb, Isobelle Espinosa and Catherine Hecht

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.