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Hoboken blinking to life after Sandy, but road back is long

November 04, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Sunday.

HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Much of Hoboken was still without power Sunday, but it was coming back slowly -- block by block, building by building.

Cheers erupted when the lights went on in the Washington Street business district, which includes Elysian Field Cafe, where patrons were eating with plastic cutlery, and Vito's Italian Deli across the street, which was not delivering but had a line out the door. Hours later, crowds cheered again when Gov. Chris Christie walked by, shaking hands.

"We were fortunate," said owner Vito Buzzerio, 50. He and half a dozen workers reopened right after the storm thanks to a borrowed generator.  "I just spoke to a couple friends that have local businesses that flooded," he said. "They'll be closed for a few months."

INTERACTIVE: Before and after  Hurricane Sandy

It's been stressful trying to stay open, and not just because the power's out. Buzzerio, who grew up here and has run the business for 26 years, has his parents staying with him because they had to be rescued from their home to the south in Little Ferry, which flooded during the storm.

 Every day seems to bring a new challenge, he said.

"It's not like you put your head on the pillow and it's over. It takes a toll," he said as he stood behind the counter Sunday. "It's a constant struggle."

He was offering free coffee and soup with every order. He's heard about other restaurants that jacked up prices after the storm -- $50 for a whole pizza pie, $5 for slices, for instance. Vito's offers a chicken cutlet sandwich for $7 to $9, by contrast, that has become so popular he's considering naming it after Sandy.

"They're making money now, but the karma will come back to them," he said.

About 660 volunteers in green vests from the Ridgewood, N.J.-based World Mission Society Church of God went door to door checking on residents Sunday in Hoboken, Queens and Staten Island.

"A lot of people were suffering from depression. But just the fact that people are here to help makes them feel good," said Mike Schardinger of Edison, who was leading a team around Hoboken. "It's going from physical needs to spiritual ones. They're scared about their life -- what's going to happen."

A shout went up from Carlos Aponte's building when the power came back on. He cheered from the street below, excited at the prospect of a hot shower and TV, then wondered: Does this mean the elevator works?

"I live on the fifth floor -- that's a long way up," Aponte, 24, said. "I don't want to be the first one to take it and get stuck in there."

 A construction worker, he's been off this week, getting hot meals and staying warm over at the Elks Club.

"I know a lot of people not working," he said. "But the town came together -- the people that have power are helping other people charge phones. I think it made Hoboken a better place. On a regular day, everybody sticks to who you know. Now people have extension cords just hanging out their windows. It gives me hope for the world."

A few blocks away at St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church, about 40 people were taking shelter for the night, and volunteers were preparing for more.

"Even after the lights come back, there will still be people whose houses are uninhabitable," said church president Mark Singleton. "The city still hasn't figured out how to transition to the next phase of the recovery."

He said some of those seeking help were already homeless, unable to take shelter near businesses that lost power or to find a spot at the local homeless shelter, which has been full.

"When the recovery is over, we'll be kicking people out to homelessness," he said.

Some of those they have helped during the storm have mental health issues that made it tough to cope, he said.

 "We've been helping them manage," he said. "The stress level is cumulative."

The day after the storm,  a panicked friend of his paid $40 for four D batteries before FEMA began giving them out for free.

His wife went back to work in the garment district Thursday, catching a ride with a stranger who needed a third person to get past the new three-person minimum at the Lincoln Tunnel. But he said it's tough for people to leave with the city still in crisis.

"Going back to work has been stressful, but business has to go on," he said.

Doctors Without Borders had two staff at the shelter. One of the local volunteers was a retired registered nurse who worked in emergency rooms and Vietnam.

Earlier this week, Rose Orozco, 68, spotted a man at the shelter suffering a heart attack, called 911 and got him help.

"He's back now," she said Sunday.

Orozco has defused arguments among the displaced, ensured that elderly evacuees stay warm and have some privacy. They have had people with chronic lung disease, some on oxygen pumps, others who need medication they've been able to provide.

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