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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
New Jersey town rediscovers old ways post-Sandy
by Staff Writers
Hoboken, New Jersey (AFP) Nov 1, 2012


After US storm, governor Cuomo warns price-hikers
New York (AFP) Nov 1, 2012 - New York state governor Andrew Cuomo warned utility companies Thursday against price-hiking after superstorm Sandy, as he announced further reopening of subway lines and trains servicing the suburbs.

"Do not try to take advantage of New Yorkers," he said, stating that if the state believes public energy and transport companies are not being diligent or doing the right thing, they could lose their certification.

"It is not just restoration of power, families are living in hardship," Cuomo said, encouraging locals to check on their neighbors.

"Most utility companies are working very hard... but it is not about a good faith effort, it is about getting the job done," he added.

Several lines connecting Manhattan to Long Island and northern areas will reopen or return to normal service late Thursday or early Friday, along with subway lines between the Queens area and Manhattan.

The Holland Tunnel, a highway tunnel under the Hudson River that links the Manhattan to Jersey City, will also reopen Friday, but for buses only.

Tunnels under the East River that had been flooded after the devastation were finally cleared and will be reopened once power returns, Cuomo said.

New York is slowly bringing its subway system back online after water gushed into much of the network, and traffic jams have snarled the city's streets.

But transport remains impossible on the southern tip of the island, where there are still power cuts.

In a town with few working televisions, almost no electricity to recharge laptops and limited cellphone reception, the mayor of one of New York's richest suburbs traveled back in time Thursday to address worried citizens.

Standing on the steps of Hoboken City Hall, Mayor Dawn Zimmer raised her voice to promise several hundred people that attempts to restore life to normal in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were succeeding.

"I'm so proud of our community. Our community is coming together. We're going to make it through this," she said.

Like every American public official these days, Zimmer has a Facebook page, Twitter feed and makes frequent television and radio show appearances.

But Sandy knocked out power to nearly every home, flooded the streets and threw this community of 50,000 just across the Hudson River from Manhattan back into the pre-digital age.

So Zimmer had to reach out the old-fashioned way: democracy, village-style.

The New Jersey town's residents bombarded her with difficult questions.

When would fuel be available? What about security at night in pitch-dark streets? Was the oil that mixed into the floodwaters toxic?

Patiently, Zimmer tried to satisfy the crowd, promising to speed up the current estimate of seven to 10 days to restore electricity, and sometimes admitting that she was as much in the dark as everyone else.

Was it possible to get a hot shower anywhere?

"I had my cold shower this morning, so I know your pain," Zimmer responded with a chuckle.

People in the crowd said they came because they had no other way to get up-to-date news.

They did, actually: an equally retro notice board where officials periodically handwrote notices about power, water supply and other crucial matters.

Despite the obvious limitations of Zimmer's appearance, with many people unable to hear, Alice Cummings, 30, said she appreciated the attempt. "At least they're trying to speak to us and communicate," she said.

Her friend Lauren Mecka, 20, said "it rallies people, gets people out, even if it doesn't give you inspiration that things are necessarily going to get better."

Another example of the return to old values has been the spontaneous outpouring of volunteerism.

Cummings and Mecka were among the many donating boxes to the food bank, while the few restaurants able to reopen have been offering free tea and coffee. Squads of volunteers visit the elderly to make sure they have food and medicine.

And in a piece of high-tech neighborliness, residents of a street that was miraculously spared the general power outage welcomed strangers to come charge their phones.

Power cords with multiple sockets stretched to the sidewalk all along the street. Some homeowners put out chairs where people could rest while charging. There were even tables with coffee and biscuits and outside one house, the owner invited people to use his WiFi network, cheekily named Sandy.

"The little girl here made me some hot apple cider to drink while I charge my phone. I almost cried," said Janitta Irwin, 39.

Irwin was stranded in Hoboken when her flight back home to Minneapolis was canceled due to Sandy. "It's nice to see people actually care," she said.

In the center of town, the battery company Duracell was doing its bit by handing out free batteries -- about 7,000 just on Thursday -- for use in torches and radios. All day long, hundreds of people calmly lined up.

They could also charge their phones at the Duracell truck and even surf the Internet on one of three computers.

At night, Hoboken travels even further back in time. This may be home to the super wealthy like New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, whose own luxury apartment building didn't escape the flooding, but the darkness overtaking the city does not discriminate.

Zimmer said Wednesday that about 90 percent of Hoboken was without power.

"It's shocking to see, especially at night with the power out," said Sergeant Major Thomas Alexander, among the National Guard soldiers -- also volunteers -- who were sent to help relief efforts in Hoboken.

"You always see it happening on TV in a different place. Not here."

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