WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The region’s cargo port system may have been up and running six days after Sandy struck, but the storm's unprecedented storm surge left its mark and is prompting a review of past assumptions about its vulnerabilities to another Sandy-like event.
"No one believed there could be a 13-foot storm surge ever in this port and there was," said retired Rear Admiral Rick Larrabee, director of Port Commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "I talked to people who have worked here for 30 years who said they never feared for their lives but they did that night."
The Port Authority's cargo handling operation is a sprawling complex that encompasses waterfront facilities in Brooklyn and Staten Island, as well as vast terminals in Newark, Bayonne and Jersey City.
Top of the to do list is exploring how to make their facilities less vulnerable to the kind of prolonged power outage that came after the storm. "We have got to work with the utilities," Larrabee said. "We are all interdependent."
He also thinks it’s critical to keep a sense of urgency when it comes to following up on lessons learned.
"I have a theory about the half life of events like this. The further out it gets from when it first happened the fuzzier it gets," Larrabee said.
Larrabee said the storm surge enveloped 14,000 new cars on the docks on the New Jersey side of the Hudson, incapacitated 40 percent of the 50 gargantuan cargo cranes that stand several stories high and took out 2,500 trucks critical to moving freight off the docks.
It also flooded Larrabee's Ports Administrative Office and the Port's police headquarters, which still remains out of commission a month later.
Larrabee says before the storm, the area’s cargo network was headed for an increase in volume, but the storm and its aftermath could hurt the final annual total.