Friday, November 2, 2012

High Water in Hoboken

We didn’t know what to expect, except there would be flooding, maybe as bad as Irene flooded Hoboken last year. In that one, water filled the back yard, like a swamp pond, and the basement was at least four feet deep in it. I had to replace the new water heater I had had installed the year before, and the building’s boiler needed replacement parts to provide heat for the cold coming soon.

But this year we had a major storm to deal with. A historical anomaly—a huge water event in the ocean combining with a snowstorm and cold front heading our way from the West. The little building has three young guys in it, plus one wife, one infant girl, and me. All the men are able-bodied, young and savvy, and super-committed to save the little building and avert the problems we had dealt with the previous big storm.

Hoboken is notoriously flood-prone, the lower part of town in particular. Built on landfill, it is dangerously soggy and vulnerable. I was especially pleased to get a ground-floor apartment when I bought my condo three years ago. I had been renting walk-ups and being trapped on a high floor was getting to me. In Irene I lost a lot of stuff I liked by leaving it in the basement, but this time I knew better. I hadn’t taken all of it out, but was careful to get everything I really wanted to keep.

Hurricane Sandy started slowly enough around four PM. I’ve lived some 40 years, off and on, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, where hurricanes are frequent and do not bother us natives much. I watched Sandy bring familiar wind and rain, listened to the howling, whistling gales outside, and considered it pretty much normal. At about 9 P.M. the flood started. A water rush of unprecedented proportions, it was as if the Hudson were in a big hurry to take over Hoboken, and maybe take it away. The back yard was filled higher than it had been with Irene, and water from Madison Street threatened to overflow the stoop and whoosh onto the first floor, engulfing my condo and destroying my last few favorite things.

But it didn’t. It stopped at the top step. We looked on in awe at the perilous river that was now our street. In an instant the electricity went out and cries went up in unison from apartments in all the buildings nearby. It was still raining, the wind was still blowing, but the unfathomable thing was all that water. People had parked their cars in the street, and now they were buried in water up to the tops of their tires. Some alarms went off.

I knew there was to be no sleeping that night. Mark, Adam, and Cliff joined together, talking of the pump and working against the possibility of devastation to come, but there was nothing to be done. It would take more than a sump pump to clean our basement, and that wouldn’t work without electricity anyway.

I took a sleeping pill and hit the sack. It was a dark, noisy and frightening night, even for an old hand like me. I’d skipped Irene last year and had never endured a flood before.

Here’s the obvious part of being in a flood. You can’t get out of your house. You look at water in the back, water in the front, and you are helpless to do anything but wait. Your life changes, like the family of Otto Frank. You are trapped, stranded—but at least in our case there weren’t any Nazis outside looking for us. The charge in your computer runs out; your cell phone is unusable. You are incommunicado and people are trying to reach you. You have messages on your cell, “I just saw Hoboken on CNN and I’m worried about you.” You are in a new subgroup—Sandy survivors. And you can’t tell anybody about it.

Mark had a battery pack. Tuesday I depleted it with charging my cell phone and by using my laptop where I went on Facebook to announce that I was fine. I sent a few emails. Tuesday night we banded together at Mark and Mandy’s, with the baby who didn’t notice a thing. We ate each other’s food, drank a little, and talked a lot, all by candlelight and all with a sense of emergency and relief that we survived.

Wednesday Mark, Mandy and the baby left for a place in Pennsylvania, largely untouched by the storm, to be with Mark’s parents and have some electricity. The flood was subsiding, slowly, and by the end of the day it was possible to walk around a little until you reached the corner of the block, where there were still high waters. People were walking around, talking to neighbors they never knew before, and the inevitable feeling of shared pain and panic bonded us all.

Night came early, with only candles, a little portable radio turned to WNYC, my Kindle, and whatever I could find to eat.

Thursday I began hearing about places where cell phones could be charged. Apparently Hudson Street hadn’t lost power, and residents there were dangling power strips from extension cords in front of their homes to share their electricity. I took my phone, my laptop, and my Kindle, all with charger cords, in that direction and discovered people gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul Church on the corner of 4th and Hudson. Everybody was nice, convivial, offering outlets on the front steps, but I went inside where it was warm and made myself comfortable in a pew while all my electronics were charging. I was surrounded by people with b-n-r accents, telling old Hoboken stories, so I felt cozy and happy.

But I couldn’t tolerate another isolated night, not if I could help it. I had an idea: Newark Airport was open—why not take a taxi there and just get on the next plane wherever it may be going? I could go anywhere there was a motel, with my laptop and cell phone, and charge everything up so I could get back in touch with my virtual world. I could get a nice warm shower and watch a little television. Sounded like a plan, but not a very practical one.

A better idea, if power was not restored by noon today (Friday), I would get on a bus to the Port Authority and take a trip to visit my daughter and family in Kingston. There I could get a shower, have lights and Internet, and also look around a little for my future home. I was able to contact Alison and discover they not only have power, the storm barely hit the area. And they were eager for me to visit!

I probably don’t have to tell you I followed Plan B. I am comfortable tonight away from the stress of low food supplies, no electricity, no contact with the outside world. I survived and feel perfectly okay. I love so much about Hoboken, but this time I was glad to leave. Being wanted is a nice feeling.


Jonathan Odell said...

You are one resourceful dame.

jacques mullet said...

Sounds inconvenient and expensive.
But it pales in comparison to the effects of Katrina on the Gulf coast no matter how big in size the
Franken-storm grew. It is nice
that ML had a place to go and got there rather than being stranded for over a week as were New Orleans survivors.

The bright side is that there may be folks looking for a place to live. Your condo might sell as soon as it is ready to occupy.

Mary Lois said...

Er, my condo is ready for occupancy, jacques, and there is at least one offer on it. If all goes well we'll close early next month.

jacques mullet said...

Condo location seems perfect for a NYC commuter.

Cheryl A. said...

Your story made me tear up a bit. I didn't like the thought of you having to go through this at all. I'm glad you're moving as this may be the beginning of some permanent weather changes coming. Glad your condo came out okay too.

Jerry Andersen said...

Glad you are high and dry. We are in Boston and it so weird to see people leading normal lives as tho nothing had happened. Supposedly the power company is saying we will have no power in Califon for at least another week with a n'or Easter on the way possibly bringing snow.

Howard Coward said...

Hoboken, it seems, will not go quietly from your life but leaves you with an adventure. Kudos to you and to the spirit of Hoboken, very much alive.

Nan said...

This is a wonderful piece of writing. You ought to try and publish it in a Hoboken newspaper.
I am so glad you are okay. I liked hearing about people banding together, and those dangling power strips. Gosh, what an image.
Thanks for writing this, and for emailing me. I was worried.

c.t. said...

I just stumbled upon your blog this evening and really enjoyed the gift of your prose. - Fellow HOB resident

Calvin Mordarski said...

Is your condo still in the market? Too bad it had some issues that needed to be resolved. Di you survey this place before you moved in? I would suggest you do that next time. Asking some residents you come across the streets would do. They probably know an important thing or two about the place. Plus, I don’t think they would have any reason to lie to you. Good luck!

Mary Lois said...

@Calvin: The condo sold two weeks after I listed it. Even after the flood the buyer stayed with it and I relocated to upstate NY, near my daughter and her family, December 3. My apartment didn't actually flood but the water came up to the top step of the stoop. Hoboken residents are not daunted by this; the buyer lived a couple of blocks away and never wavered.

Kathi said...

Hi ML, I am reading this blog post for the first time. It certainly brings back memories of both Irene and Sandy. You were so lucky to have a Hoboken person buy the condo and not freak out because of the storm. Hard to believe it was one year ago when all that happened. So glad you are enjoying your new home in New Paltz.

Mary Lois said...

I know it, Kathi! Just re-reading it reminds me of the tension and travails of just a year ago. All is well now, I love living in New Paltz, but will always be a little nostalgic for Hoboken, a beautiful little spot in New Jersey!