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A Not So Journalistic Perspective on Sandy in Fort Lee

Some observations of Fort Lee the news didn't report... and some they did

As most people were sitting in the dark in their homes listening to the wind there was another world occurring outdoors within the Borough of Fort Lee. IT WAS BRUTAL!!! This was the first time in recorded history that a hurricane made landfall in NJ (Hurricane Irene was a tropical storm when it reached us) It was a fact that PSE&G couldn’t dispatch their manpower until the bulk of the storm had passed without endangering their crews. It would have also been a foolish effort trying to keep up with the quantity of trees and lines that were falling. It was so fast that navigating the streets changed in moments. It was all the police could do to mark streets which were impassible so that the drivers who weren’t smart enough to be off the road wouldn’t utilize them. This was difficult for two reasons, people were driving through them or the wind was ripping the markers out. They had to deal with many power live power lines, apartment buildings which had window blow outs, general medical emergencies, etc.

Due to a utility pole going down on Inwood Terrace the PD and Community center both had their generators automatically kick in. Although this will cost Fort Lee some money it kept our police, fire, EMS, OEM, DPW, and borough officials in contact with each other and outside agencies. It kept the infrastructure of Fort Lee solid and working hard so that the residents were safe. We can only hope that the fuel can hold up or power can be restored soon, since the getting a delivery may be an issue in the short term.

The community center generator which also kicked in during the heart of the storm gave emergency workers a place for evacuated residents. The Office of Emergency Management, at the direction of our officials, opened a temporary shelter. Along with many DPW workers, borough workers, and volunteers, Mayor Sokolich assisted in taking equipment off the truck and setting up cots so that we had a temporary shelter while directing other operations in between trips to the truck.

The same DPW guys who were assisting to unload for the shelter had also been out before and returned to cleaning the streets. By cleaning the streets they were moving or removing what they could without placing themselves into a dangerous situation so they could return and permanently remove it later. Fire and EMS crews were running throughout the storm answering emergencies in a business as usual fashion making sure care was given to those who needed.

After the storm all of these same people who had been working through the night to clean up were still working with little sleep. Some of the police had been working through what ended up being 24 hour shifts. Unfortunately due to the ignorance of many, the streets flooded with cars. Many of the drivers should not have been due to the lack of basic driving knowledge. When there is no power at an intersection which is normally a stop light, it becomes a stop sign where people alternate. It is not a place to play chicken with the traffic crossing the road. The lack of patience was astonishing and it was shameful how people were rushing around when they shouldn’t have been on the roads. If you were, then it should have been understood we were in a state of emergency. The police at the end of this long shift and brutal night now had to deal with this stupidity which was unnecessary.

At the corner of Lemoine Ave and Palisades Ave there was a traffic sign which said it all… GO HOME. This is where people belong unless absolutely necessary so that the cleanup can occur. Everyone was in such a rush to get out that it was ignored that while you are out you are hindering cleanup operations. The traffic we had hindered movement of emergency and cleanup crews trying to get around to everything. And if you haven’t walked or driven around, there was a lot of
damage.

The community center has remained open from 7am to 6pm daily as a comfort station. The borough has been providing coffee, a place to keep warm, and a place to charge your communication devices. It is being used as exactly its purpose, a community center. Most people have been taking the time to appreciate this service the borough is providing. Few others have been taking advantage of the space and disrespecting the staff. Like always you get the bad with the good.

This is just some of the things that our officials have done for us while most of Fort Lee was at home. Did anyone notice the sense of community that is occurring outdoors. Neighbors are helping each other and talking to each other. People are coming out of their houses and enjoying life without the complications of electricity. Families are playing games, taking walks together, and spending quality time with each other. One resident on Anderson Ave who has power put an extension cord out with a sign saying “Happy Halloween, Charge your phone here.” All this while, others are away from their families working hard to get life back to as normal as possible, as quickly as possible. For those of us who were powerless during last year’s Halloween storm know that with a little creativity and patience you can enjoy this time.

Main Street not losing power was also a great luck item. It has given people a place to go, things to do, get something hot to eat or charge their electronics. This is the most activity I have seen on a normal day to our own local economy. Even some businesses without power are open to provide cash services to those who had or have been able to find cash.

Yes the lack of power is an inconvenience, but we fared out pretty well compared to many areas. NJ was hit hard, with millions of dollars in damage done in Fort Lee alone. What many don’t know is Mayor Sokolich’s decision to declare a State of Emergency was the ideal one to make. With that we can now recover a large percentage of the extra money we have spent during this crisis. During the last emergency a year ago we were able to recover 75% of all the damage, cleanup, and money associated including manpower.

NJ will recover as Chris Christie had said in one of his interviews. Our economy over the next few years will both suffer and thrive. Sandy has now created new jobs for NJ using the scorched(drowned) earth method. Using this method is frowned upon by humanity but it is successful in modernizing our infrastructure. When the shore is rebuilt and back to its bustling summer retreat the old boardwalks will be remembered, but new boardwalks have been in order for a long time. Many of the buildings and hotels have outgrown the needs of the Jersey Shore and Sandy has now in one swoop made it possible to do that, unfortunately at a great cost of property.

I will add one last note – It is amazing to see how giving many people can be during a crisis such as this... To you I say thank you on behalf of the grateful. It is just as disappointing to see how selfish some people as well… I can’t say what I would like to you as obscenities are not allowed in these blogs.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

carol simon November 01, 2012 at 01:02 PM
I feel very insulated and I appreciated reading your blog this morning. Well written and informative, thank you. I feel like we are in good hands here in Fort Lee although some basic needs are out of anyone's 'power"!
Howard L. Pearl November 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM
As always, the Fort Lee emergency services performed admirably. One cannot begin to appreciate the amazing dedication of the Police Dept., the Fire Dept., ambulance services, EMT services, and other volunteer services, throughout the course of the hurricane and the aftermath. All the local religious institutions pitched in to assist the victims of this terrible crisis. And while those who are still enduring the blackout are still cursing PSE&G, those of us that had power restored within a few days are very grateful to the dedication of the crews that restored our power. I reiterate Paul’s words regarding the citizens of Fort Lee who displayed the “true neighbor” qualities during the blackout and reached out to assist families in need.
William Mays November 01, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I thought the "GO HOME" signs were pretty rude. Otherwise, good blog.
Paul Umrichin November 01, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I laughed when I first saw it which prompted me to stop and capture the image. However rude and direct it was, it was perfect.
Howard L. Pearl November 01, 2012 at 10:08 PM
When you have no power and no water and a family of five, the “Go Home” and “Curfew” signs seem a bit ludicrous. I was out on the road at various hours trying to scavenge food and supplies under difficult circumstances, as were many other fathers and mothers. And I was successful for the most part. Telling everyone to stay home because of dangerous roads sounds a lot better when you are not in the middle of the crisis.
Paul Umrichin November 01, 2012 at 10:56 PM
What is unfortunate Howard is that many of the people who live in the high rises felt the "it won't happen to me" surge before the storm. After a childhood of Boy Scouts, 20+ years in emergency services, and living in an area prone to power outages I have developed a be prepared mentality. Thsi is something that many people need to do better. If there is a storm coming whether there is a power outage or not people should prepare for at least 48 hours after a major rain/snow storm. In that 48 hours the emergency services have the time and berth they need to clean the roads and clear the debris/snow. Being on the roads is a hinderance. Unfortunately due to the sensationalism of Hurricane Irene and its lack of delivery in NY/NJ everyone was complacent in thinking that its just overhyped like the last one. SURPRISE!!!! It wasn't. Howard I appreciate that you were out doing for your family like many others but there was no reason to be out in the first place during a state issued State of Emergency. If people had planned on a hurricane they would have been prepared for more than one night. If someone absolutely needs to be out at that time they should have the courtesy and patience that the situation deserves. That is in just as much demand as power is at the moment.
John Doe November 02, 2012 at 02:01 AM
Go home and do what exactly? Die? Stupid sign...
Dave Garcia November 02, 2012 at 11:34 AM
I have one question that nobody seems to be able to answer.why is the area with the police station and community center not a priority grid to be repaired? I have recently been informed of a list that shows the area to be addressed. And that area is not at the top? Don't get me wrong.I am a big fan of the community center. ( year round ) And definitely agree with the city's decision to run the center as they have. But it seems to me that it is fiscally prudent to get the police station and community center off of the generators as quickly as possible. I want to believe that there is a good reason for the decisions made.but to be honest. I have not seen a single pse&g crew on that side of town for days? And many of my neighbors say the same. Are the crews working at some unseen transfer station? My point is that although it is wonderful to have the generators and be able to provide the service they are providing. a better effort should be made to get that area off of fuel consumption 1st. Pse&g states themselves. Police stations and hospitals 1st. That does not seem to be the case here.
Paul Umrichin November 02, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Dave - the loss won't be that bad considering the overall picture. We will get 75% of the fuel cost back from FEMA. We didn't utilize any power from PSE&G for however long it will take. Simple formula (emergency fuel cost) - (normal power cost(because we aren't using or being charged for power)) X 0.25 = Extra cost to Borough - if the normal price for a day of use is $1000 and we are now spending $2000 per day the actual cost would be $250.00 per day. I don't know the real numbers so this is by no means accurate but we aren't spending as much as you appear to think it will. As far as why its still not up that's on PSE&G, I know that the Borough has a person in contact with them regularly. This I know as a fact. This is bad widespread damage with infrastructure damage at substations. Give them time, they have been reporting on the news estimated times and people are coming back up.
Dave Garcia November 02, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Hey Paul. While i appreciate a clear response. And I get that this is a true disaster. I would love to see that area come off of generators sooner then later. To depend on fema seems to me a slippery slope. But hey. It is what it is. Be well. Be safe.
Bill Mitchell November 02, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Sandy was a category one storm before it landed and downgraded to a tropical storm as it landed here in Jersey. Category one normally means minimal damage. But the low pressure and the tidal surge of Sandy was that of a storm of category three, even possibly of a category four storm. And that means severe damage. The storm was accurately predicted, but the extent of the damage was not...or at least not stressed enough. Serious thought will have to be done about category including pressure and surge in addition to wind speed.
Lilian Vasquez November 02, 2012 at 05:24 PM
http://www.waff.com/story/19981857/some-nonunion-ala-crews-turned-away-from-sandy-recovery
Fort Lee Truth November 02, 2012 at 07:53 PM
The severity of the storm was well known a week in advance. I stocked up with canned goods, water, food, batteries, etc. If the storm didn't materialize, it wasn't like any of the stuff I got was going to be wasted and was going to be used eventually. Waiting to get food AFTER you've lost power after meterologists have been harping for a week about the storms severity is absurd.
Paul Umrichin November 04, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Howard.. I completely understand the needs you are talking about. I am sure you are one of the drivers on the road who were careful when approaching all of the intersections. You weren't speeding through tree lined streets, being impatient with the conditions of the roads, and being courteous to other drivers. Unfortunately many others were not Howard and it is to them that I gear most of my annoyance. Since you are in the care of many people with special needs you of all people should understand the need for preparation. Where you work were there preparations being made or was there a plan made in case of disaster. Of course there is and every one needs one at home as well. It was widely publicized that this was going to have a major impact on the area. Frankenstorm, although a sensationalized name, was exactly what they predicted. The message is preparededness. Even if you are prepared what's the worst that could happen. You have to drink the extra water and eat the extra food. Hopefully many will prepare better from here out.
Paul Umrichin November 05, 2012 at 08:25 PM
http://fortlee.patch.com/blog_posts/help-needed-for-seniors
Thomas A Bennett November 08, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Paul, During the outage, I was trying to run a campaign while worrying about the fate of the other two adults who were home along with three parrots and a dog without power. I also was a Boy Scout and come from a tough breed. We blocked off our living room with a comforter, put on several pots of water on the stove and had steam heat. Having all that steam has it's own problems. The family next door bought what seems the noisiest generator they could buy, and put it next to my bedroom window. Still We survived and the happiest moment came last nignt at 7:28 Pm when all the lights and heat came on. I stopped by the Community Center and people told me that they had no power and were cold and had electric stoves. I called the Mayors Office to ask him to keep the Center open all night for these unfortunate people, but was informed there was a curfew in effect. I informed the person answering the phone that the Mayor could lift the curfew for the Center as they did on Election night. I did not get a call back.
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