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Hoboken Slowly Getting Back to Normal

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Three months after Sandy sent floodwaters streaming through the streets of Hoboken, things look mostly back to normal. But behind the scenes, the recovery continues.

More than half of the workers of Hoboken take trains, buses and ferries to their jobs, but in the months since Sandy, they’ve endured cancellations, closures and delays, as repairs are made to the flooded Hoboken Terminal. The ornate, hundred-year-old terminal sits right on the Hudson River and took on about four feet of water during the storm. The flood destroyed its heating system, left buckled floors and mold issues, and knocked out power to the electrical wires above the train tracks. Many commuters are upset that it could be several more months before the restrooms and ticket booths are repaired and all rail service resumes.

Earlier this week, New Jersey Transit’s Executive Director Jim Weinstein greeted travelers and handed them coupons for free coffee to thank them for their patience.  As he announced the partial re-opening of the waiting room and one of the coffee shops, he said progress is being made.  

“We know this has been a trying time. I will tell you that we’re working as hard as we can possibly work, the men and women at New Jersey Transit, to get the system fully restored,” he said, adding, “It’s been hard for us, but we’re getting there.”  

PATH train commuters also received some good news this week, as weekday service between Hoboken and the World Trade Center was finally restored several weeks ahead of schedule.

Elsewhere in Hoboken, at the Connors Primary School, hope is harder to come by. Three pre-K classes, several offices and the cafeteria on the ground floor were badly damaged, making students temporarily use their classrooms as lunch rooms and forcing dozens to relocate to other schools. Hoboken Superintendent Dr. Mark Toback estimates that Sandy-related losses cost the district close to two million dollars. While giving a tour of the school, he said the damage was unbelievable.  Storm-related damage to the wall of a pre-k classroom at Connors primary school in Hoboken

“These rooms looked like they were in a war zone or something,” he explained, pointing out cracks in the structure and damaged drywall. “There was just total destruction of everything that’s here. And it’s very sad to see, because you see lots of little projects for kids, little classroom activities that they had done that were just in ruins!"

(Storm-related damage to the wall of a pre-k classroom at Connors primary school in Hoboken, Scott Gurian/WNYC)

Toback says insurance money has been slow to arrive, and even when it does, there’s a $500,000 deductible. The problems are compounded by the fact that state law forced the district to cap its rainy day fund and give excess surplus back to taxpayers, so Hoboken schools were prohibited from saving up enough emergency money to deal with but have yet to make a determination.

“You know, they come. They look. They express all sorts of good intentions,” Toback said, “But at this point, we don’t have any money. And we don’t have any ability, really, to go fixing all this on our own.”

Many Hoboken residents who live in below-ground-level apartments are also battling with FEMA and insurance companies, since their homes are being defined as “basements” and therefore are denied coverage. The city’s Mayor is pushing to change the rules, which she says don’t reflect the reality of urban living. 

In addition to homeowners, the storm continues to impact many small businesses in Hoboken, who have reported up to 70-percent declines in revenue. Throughout the city, they’ve posted signs in their front windows, urging people to “Shop Local,” desperately trying to lure back customers.

Brian Carr (left) runs a company called Solid Threads, which designs and prints popular and edgy graphic t-shirts. After taking what he guesses is a $50,000 hit from damaged equipment, destroyed inventory and missed holiday sales, he’s decided to give up his retail location for the foreseeable future and sell exclusively over the internet. While he misses the daily interaction with customers and says he feels a bit removed from the community without a physical location, he’s confident things will turn out for the best.

“I’ve kind of seen this now as a blessing in disguise,” he said, “because I was committing so much time to the retail and at the end of the day, the bottom line wasn’t paying off. I see it as a new beginning.”

On the Solid Threads website, Carr recently started selling a special, benefit t-shirt, with half the proceeds going to Hoboken storm relief efforts. The shirt pretty much sums up how he feels after the past three months, and it’s a feeling he says could help others in his situation if they have the courage to persevere. It’s royal blue with a giant smile on the front, and simply says the words, “Irrational Sense of Optimism.”