HOBOKEN, New Jersey — Another day living among Army National Guard troops, the stench of leaking oil, cold, darkness, and swamp-like mud in the streets left residents of one of New York’s richest suburbs wondering Thursday when they’ll ever recover from Hurricane Sandy.
The flooding that until Wednesday covered much of Hoboken was finally gone, but the evil-smelling slime that came with the water, apparently mixed with fuel or heating oil, was not. And electricity remained entirely cut off.
Across the picturesque town on the New Jersey bank of the Hudson River, opposite Manhattan’s skyscrapers, the drone of generators was the loudest sound. Few shops in the town of 50,000 were open. Traffic was gone, and cellphones barely worked.
City Hall resembled a refugee center, with dozens of National Guard soldiers in camouflage gathered at army trucks and Hummers, while locals crowded around for information.
The latest news, written by hand on a large whiteboard on City Hall steps, was not good for those shivering in apartments without electric heating or light: “Estimated total power restoration in 7 to 10 days,” it said.
Hoboken is a prime location for wealthy commuters to Manhattan, but Sandy could not have been democratic in impact. Even the Super Bowl winning quarterback for the New York Giants NFL team, Eli Manning, had flooding in the lobby of his luxury, Hoboken building.
So residents pulled up their sleeves and pulled together.
The Harman family was bailing out the flooded garage they’d used as a storage space. Already they’d filled a dumpster with ruined belongings and a new pile — children’s toys, furniture and household equipment — gathered on the sidewalk.
A huge black case for a harp played by retired professional musician Lise Harman was covered in slime. The box, which resembled an oddly shaped coffin and was plastered in “Fragile” stickers, drew curious looks from passersby.
“Everyone’s wondering what this is,” Harman’s daughter Christine Harman said, tracing the words “Harp Case” with her finger in the slime. “Now they know.”
The harp itself was OK, though, Harman said. “It was upstairs.”
Christine Harman, a 43-year-old lawyer, said Hoboken residents were trying to keep their spirits up despite the lack of heat, power and in some apartments, water.
“We’re sticking together. In our building we had a party last night. We had a grill on the roof and we cooked the meat that was going to go bad and drank the beer that was going to go off,” she said.
Nearby at the Nag’s Head pub, the fate of the stocks of barreled beer was only one of the concerns.
Flooding there had reached half way up the side of the bar, the dirt leaving a clear high water mark. Water still totally filled the basement and although a generator was available to power a pump, the pub needed gasoline and that, as is the case across New Jersey, was scarce.
“We couldn’t get in here yesterday. The water was so oily and scary we didn’t want to go through it,” Mairead Patterson, 33, said. “The fire department promised to bring gas, but they had a fire call while they were here and had to leave, so I don’t know when they’ll be back.”
Even the most basic needs were a challenge to meet.
A long line stretched from the entrance of a CVS pharmacy where staff were only allowing in small groups of people at a time.
“It’s going to be mass hysteria, I think, if they let everyone in,” said Deana Bryant, a 34-year-old teacher.
Some in the line were coming for medicine. All Bryant wanted was some bleach.
“We’re washing out shoes that we had on when we walked through sewage and also putting a bit in the water we drink,” she said.
Told that City Hall’s information board insisted that tap water is safe to drink, Bryant said: “We don’t trust that. We’ll still add a bit of bleach.”