The Road To Recovery

When “Superstorm Sandy” hit the east coast it was called a “Perfect Storm” because of its powerful combination of the hurricane, a full moon, high tide, and a cold front coming in from the west, all at the same time. Hurricane Sandy caused an estimated $52 billion in damage (second only to Hurricane Katrina) and killed 209 people in seven countries along her path. When Sandy hit New Jersey and New York on October 29, she was classified as a “post-tropical cyclone” with hurricane-force winds that left devastation up and down the eastern seaboard. But, no matter how many photos you see, it’s not the same as standing there and looking at the damage first-hand, which I had the opportunity to do less than a week after Sandy hit. That is when you realize the true power that “Mother Nature” really has.

The severe cold front and snow that came in with the storm made things even worse, as many had no electricity (or heat). Entire cities were still without power, which quickly became an ugly reminder as to just how dependent we are of electricity. With power being so important, generators instantly became a hot commodity. Pete was called to take a generator from Mankato, MN to Long Beach, NY – a city on the south side of Long Island. It was a power-only job (no trailer was needed as the large generator was on wheels), but the load required a team, so I went with Pete. We left home on Friday afternoon and by Saturday night we were already rolling into the most surreal place I think I have ever been in all my years on the road.

While we were picking up the generator, I found out that it was going to a pharmaceutical company that fills prescriptions for in-home care patients. As of that Friday, they were over 30,000 prescriptions behind. I had never even thought about people needing to get their prescriptions, but since many companies only let you get a monthly supply of medications now (instead of several months), I could see how this could become a big problem – quickly.

As we got closer to New York City, things still looked relatively normal, with the exception of a few street lights out on a couple of ramps. There were signs saying that the Lincoln Tunnel was only open to buses and the Battery Tunnel was still completely closed. The Battery Tunnel was one of the hardest hit from the storm surge (both have since been reopened). We had to go around JFK airport, and planes were taking off and landing normally. But, once we started driving on Highway 27 along the southern coast of Long Island, we started seeing the signs of what had happened.

Arriving on Long Island around 9:00 pm, we saw lines of cars waiting to get gas. Police officers were standing in the streets, directing the people in when it was their turn. There were also people standing in lines with two or three gas cans. I thought about how heavy five gallons of gas is and how hard it would be to carry two cans at all (never mind how far they might have to take them). About that time, Pete got a call that there had been a shooting at a gas station near where we had to deliver.

Before delivering the generator, we were first supposed to go to the local bus garage to fill it up with fuel (they always ship them empty, but in this case I really wondered why). When we turned south on South Beach Street, we were in the dark. It was really eerie – the streets were completely dark except for the occasional place that obviously had a generator and fuel to run it. The street lights just hung there – no red, no yellow, and no green. After we went through a police barricade, we started to see boats just lying in the street. It was so dark. We crossed a draw bridge and found the bus garage, but they decided that we should wait until the morning to get the generator fueled and parked.

When the sun came up, it was a beautiful morning. Will Foster, who was the supervisor on the job site we were delivering to, was kind enough to take me for a ride around the city to see the damage and get some pictures. The first thing I noticed was all of the sand in the streets – by now, much of it had been pushed into piles, but there were piles everywhere. Cars were sitting atop drifts of sand in underground parking garages and playgrounds were covered with piles of debris. People’s entire lives were just sitting on the curb, waiting to be picked up by garbage trucks. I also saw a lot of mattresses on the street and wondered where all of these people had to sleep now. One hopeful sign that I saw, which seems to be planted at the scene of every disaster, was an American flag. The flag, in all its glory, was stuck in a pile of sand littered with cement blocks and debris in the middle of the main street of town.

On our way out of town, we stopped to get a cup of coffee and there was a beautiful cocker spaniel named Alfie. We had left our babies at home with a sitter, so I was really missing them. It made me feel good to see so many pets. I give Mayor Bloomberg big praise for his stand on pets – the taxi drivers were not allowed to refuse a ride to anyone who had a pet, as long as they were on a leash or in a carrier. To the people who love their pets, I’m sure there was some comfort in this fact. I can’t imagine going through something like this and then being told that I had to leave my pets behind, too. I think a lot was learned from Hurricane Katrina in regards to this issue. There was an animal rescue across the street from where we delivered the generator, and a sign on the fence said that all of the animals were safe and listed an address as to where they had been taken.

Once back in New Jersey, we had lunch with friends who told us about how people were going to the malls to charge their cell phones and computers in special areas that were set up for folks to plug in their various electronic devices. The malls had generators, and it gave people a warm place to go. Out in the communities hardest hit, some people who had power strung extension cords out to the street with a note telling neighbors that they could use them for charging their phones and computers. You just don’t realize how important electricity is until you don’t have it!

Talking with our friends at High Wide & Heavy Escorts, John & Kim Incontrera, they told me that they were lucky and that their house hadn’t got much damage. But the area around them was pretty devastated. Looking to help, working with the Deputy Mayor and Emergency Management teams, they were able to volunteer their services and use their escort vehicles to deliver food, hot coffee, blankets, water, and anything else they could load up with at the staging area. Driving up and down the streets and announcing what they had to offer on their PA systems, they were able to provide a little relief to people who really needed it. Having worked with John, Kim, Paul, and several of their other escorts before this happened, I don’t think there are too many people that know these areas any better than they do – the police and firefighters only work one area, but High Wide & Heavy works the entire city and all of the
islands. I want to thank them for talking to me – I know that these great people and this great company will be playing a vital role in the recovery and rebuilding of the entire area. I also want to thank Anthony Merillo, who just recently got engaged, for sharing pictures.

When I asked John if there were any railroads on the island, he told me that there is only commuter rails – there are no cargo trains at all – so it will take trucks (and plenty of them) to bring in all the supplies needed to rebuild in these areas (and to remove all of the sand and debris, as well). I hope that the east coast has a very mild winter to at least help with the rebuilding, because the last thing they need now is a hard winter and piles of snow to deal with. And with the Holidays upon us, I’m sure many people will be celebrating much differently than how they had originally planned them just weeks ago.

The east coast’s road to recovery is going to be long, hard and filled with trucks. The roads out there are full of trucks on a “normal” day, but with all that has happened there will have to be even more. Sadly, for some people, it will be a very long time before anything is “normal” again – and for others, it will never be “normal” again, the way it was before the storm. But for those who are merely happy to be alive and safe, it just might be their most honest and sincere Holiday Season yet. I hope that all of you out there, no matter where you are, have a Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year!

About Kim Grimm

Kim Grimm has had a license to drive a truck since April of 1978 and has driven millions and millions of miles ever since. Living in Wisconsin with her beloved cocker spaniels, Kim, who is a long-haul owner operator, has been a regular contributor to 10-4 Magazine since 2003.