November 3, 2012
Nobody was prepared for the force of Hurricane Sandy when it smacked into the Jersey shore on Monday: Not the barrier island towns turned into miles-long piles of mangled houses, buried cars and burning gas lines, and their dazed, defiant old-timers who’d weathered previous storms, but had to be rescued by police and National Guard units.
Not the state of New Jersey, whose Obama-bashing Republican governor was reduced to asking the Democratic president for massive federal aid, as lines of desperate drivers snaked along roads across the state seeking some gasoline from the few service stations that had electricity, and millions of residents shivered in homes with no lights or heat.
Not the city of New York, where the storm surge swamped subway tunnels and car tunnels, flooded power stations that shorted out electric power to large swathes of the city, as winds gusting to 100 miles per hour closed bridges, airports and fanned flames that burned out an entire seaside community.
And not the federal government, which scrambled to mobilize military units to fly in utility crews from other states to help untangle broken power lines and fallen trees, fix or replace exploded transformers and flooded substations; FEMA and other federal agency aid teams faced with millions of increasingly restive people without electricity and heat and running out of food; and logistics teams to organize the movement of gasoline supplies to the region’s thousands of largely darkened service stations.
In our little corner of Teaneck, NJ, power returned after four days, thanks to a crew of utility workers from Florida who worked long hours to replace a transformer down the street that burst into flames during the hellacious winds that whipped through here on Monday, toppling trees across the region. We celebrated with friends with a potluck supper that was all that remained of a poetry reading we’d planned to hold at a local arts center. Beyond our few, happy blocks of light, most of our town and as far as one could see across Bergen County was still dark Friday night.
Meanwhile, long lines of cars, vans and trucks formed near the few service stations that were open. A long line of people on foot with gas cans waited at a gas station in a neighboring town, hoping to get some fuel for generators or to drive to work even after the station ran out and closed the pumps. The gasoline crisis prompted New Jersey Governor Christie to order odd/even rationing based on the last numeral on one's license plate and the date of the month. Even so, a service station near our home closed this morning after it quickly sold out its supply to a flash-mob of drivers and walkers with gas cans. A worker at the station said he didn’t know when they would get resupplied.