On the third day after Hurricane Sandy soaked Hoboken in several feet of water, leaving the city one of the most crippled in the region, those with the least found themselves suspended in the storm’s cold, dark aftermath. Late this week, Hoboken started to hum with generators and a taco truck.
The projects where Rodriguez and her daughter, Jayleen Avalos, lived were still at the bottom of the world. The 25 or so buildings operated by the Hoboken Housing Authority were clustered together on 17 acres at the city’s southern edge. They were hemmed in by gentrification on one side — $600,000 lofts with same-day shirt service dry cleaners — and a steel fence in the back. Two feet of floodwater created a moat around the buildings. The National Guard brought water and MREs. The Red Cross brought bologna-and-cheese sandwiches.
But the one commodity residents were starved for was information, and the absence of it deepened their sense of isolation. The city government used social media to update citizens. Grace Rodriguez would have appreciated a bullhorn.
Hers was a high state of worry. She was afraid she might fall asleep with a candle burning. Or that someone might bust through the chain on her door. Or that she would lose her job at the nursing home where she worked as a dietary aid. Afraid that she and her daughter and their neighbors would be forgotten by the people outside.
She tried to give her day some structure. Her kitchen was spotless, the apartment had not one crooked picture frame, and flashlights were strategically placed. But nothing helped the cold dark of night.
Rodriguez told her daughter it was time to venture out. Jayleen had already made her bed, military corners and pillows arranged. After a breakfast of cheese omelets, they put on their rain boots and started walking north.
Out of the projects, Rodriguez could see the storm’s damage everywhere. The smell of oil. Wet furniture being dragged out. Hoses crisscrossing the sidewalk. Rented generators were revved up, pumping water from basements. On Washington Street, the commercial strip, people were walking dogs and the taco truck had a long line of customers.
Their first stop was Radio Shack. “Do you have any old-fashioned phones?” Rodriguez asked the clerk. She was hoping to try the phone jack in her apartment. The old-fashioned phones were sold out.
Next was CVS, where the store was letting a few people in at a time. Rodriguez had prepared for the storm with candles, batteries and flashlights, but as the days dragged on without power, she wanted to restock. The drugstore was sold out of all three.
The sun was still out as they walked home to Harrison Street, with one dead mobile phone between them.