BY MICHAEL CAHILL
PHOTOS BY TOM MCGUIRE AND DYLAN SKRILOFF
Hurricane Sandy blew through Rockland County on this week, with high winds and a record storm surge. In her wake, Sandy left many residents with damaged homes and property and tens of thousands more without power.
Sandy made landfall around 8 p.m. on Monday night along the New Jersey shore, but the region felt her effects long before that. Storm surge and high winds caused significant damage beginning Monday morning.
The Storm Surge
Rockland residents living near the Hudson River got the worst of Sandy. They not only had to deal with strong, tree-pummeling winds, but also an unprecedented storm surge with a high tide made worse by a full moon.
Residents of Stony Point’s Bar-Mar Trailer park were given a mandatory evacuation order before the storm hit. However some stayed behind and needed to be evacuated during the peak of the storm.
Mariangela Lutz told the Rockland County Times that she’s lived in Ba-Mar since she moved to New York from Italy in 1965 at the age of 15.
“It never, ever, ever came up that high,” Lutz said. “Since 1965, it never came up to our street. Not only did it come, it came in high.”
Because in 47 years the water never flooded her home, she did not believe the evacuation orders were based in reality. An elderly neighbor of Lutz who lived to be over 100 years old also said the water never got as high as her home, so Lutz trusted history instead of the prognosticators.
It turned out the prognosticators were right, and when Lutz’s husband heard how high the water was via a telephone call, he called for her rescue. On Monday night, Stony Point first responders rescued her via boat!
Joseph Licari and wife Amy did evacuate when told, but they returned to find their waterfront property had become a dock for several wayward boats; including two resting against their broad living room window and one in their front yard.
Up and down the Hudson boats pushed ashore and all manner of debris could be seen, often leaving areas slick with dirt and mud.
Walking through downtown business district in Piermont on Wednesday not a single electric light could be seen. Police and firefighters blocked off streets with flares to as they helped pump water out basements.
By early Wednesday afternoon in Nyack, police closed streets leading down to the riverfront, including closing Memorial Park. The mayors of Piermont and South Nyack issued curfews Wednesday night because of the danger still posed by the lingering storm damage.
As bad as it has been in Rockland, it could have been worse. Stony Point Town Engineer Kevin Maher said, “This is bad, but if the storm hit 50 miles north it would have been Biblical.”
Indeed, pictures of the Jersey shore can only be called Biblical, as entire municipalities were virtually wiped out.
Thankfully the death toll in Rockland from was low. Only one death was reported, in Pearl River. But the county must now deal with the storm’s aftermath that has left tens of thousands of residents without power, and will cost millions to clean up.
So far this week, Orange and Rockland Utilities (O&R) repair crews crisscrossed the county assessing the damage to their power system. They are calling Sandy the worst storm in company history. So far the damage caused by Sandy is double the amount from Hurricane Irene last year.
As of Thursday evening, about 67,000 Rocklanders are still without power. Fallen trees are the culprits in most cases. High winds with gusts up to 60 and 70 mph toppled trees onto power lines, and creating dangerous live wire situations.
Mike Donovan of Orange & Rockland calls Sandy, “The worst storm in company history. Double the amount of damage from Irene.”
Donovan said 80 percent of customers have experienced power outages from the storm. Compared to last year’s superstorms, Snowtober knocked out power to 134,00 customers, and Irene to 120,000. Hurricane Sandy reached 230,000 outages.
Currently O&R is estimating a return of power by the end of next week for the majority of people without power. However, some customers might not get power back for another week after that.
In addition to knocking down power lines, Sandy also caused significant damage to O&R’s transmission and distribution systems. Specifically destroying transformers, substations, and distribution circuits. O&R spokespeople have acknowledged that the full restoration of service could take weeks.
Gas Stations and Traffic Lights
With extreme power outages gripping the county residents are turning to generators as a stopgap measure. Many of these generators are gas powered, so the influx has created a run on gas stations.
This increase in demand has been compounded by a major reduction in supply as power outages at gas terminals and a temporary restriction of water travel put into place by Governor Cuomo caused a lack of operating gas stations. In addition, many stations that do have gas, are unable to pump the gas due to being blacked out.
Long lines of cars spilled from gas stations out onto Route 59 and all over beginning Wednesday and Thursday this week as residents scrambled to get their gas before stations ran out. Those looking to fill up waited nearly two hours in most places.
Additionally many traffic lights in the county are out of order. On Route 59 in Nanuet, the scene Wednesday morning was one of near chaos as cars tried navigating the busy thoroughfare without the help of traffic lights.
In New York City, the same storm surge that flooded parts of Rockland, invaded subway tunnels and parts of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Hoboken on Monday night during the height of the storm.
Since then, the city is experiencing wide spread power outages. Over 80 homes in Breezy Point, Queens were reduced to nothing but ash.
However, by far the worst damage from Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey, completely destroying large portions of its coast. On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama went out to survey the damage with his sometimes foe, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Shelters and heating stations remained open this week, and plan to stay open for the time being. Most are accepting donations of one kind or another for those in need. The biggest shelter in the county is at Rockland Community College.
The Ambulance Corps Building in Stony Point has acted as a shelter for the last several days. It’s been an interesting grand opening for the facilty, which just began regular use one week ago. Marc Engelman, president of the corps, said, “I’m sorry the people of Stony Point need us, but I’m glad that we can help.”
Those without power also sought shelter in the few stores and shopping plazas with heat and electricity. The Starbucks and Barnes & Noble on Route 59 for example were crowded with people up until closing time.
All Rockland County school district were closed this week because of power failure and/or dangerous conditions caused by fallen trees and power lines.
With Election Day right around the corner, the Rockland County Board of Elections says they are planning to go ahead with everything as planned. The board has ordered generators from the state board of elections, along with fuel and extension cords in case power is not restored to polling stations.
According to Rockland County Election Commissioner Louis Babcock, Orange and Rockland has a list of polling place and is giving them priority before November 6. Babcock also says that the board of elections has contingency plans if polling needs to take place without power.
On the national front, conventional wisdom says the press coverage of the hurricane helps the incumbent President Obama, although that may be counteracted by reduced turnout in states affected by Sandy.
No doubt this storm has had and will continue to have a huge economic impact on the region. Each day without power is money out of people’s pockets, lost revenue for municipalities and businesses.
The full cost of clean up and repair in the county will likely not be known for some time. In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday afternoon, Clarkstown Town Supervisor, Alexander Gromack, said clean up in his town could cost $1 million. It remains to be seen though, what the full cost will be county wide.
Trick or Treat
The towns of Stony Point and Orangetown both postponed Halloween trick or treating for kids until Saturday due to poor conditions and downed power lines.
Dylan Skriloff contributed to this report