N.J. Residents Recount Experiences During Storm

Superstorm Sandy devastated much of New Jersey, with massive power outages, crippled mass transit routes, and an astonishing tidal surge. NPR's David Folkenflik spent time Tuesday with people from two small New Jersey towns covered — for a few hours — by seemingly biblical waters.

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Many places flooded up and down the East Coast, though New Jersey got some of the worst of the flooding. NPR's David Folkenflik spent time yesterday with people in two small New Jersey towns.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Moonachie is a small town of about 2,800 people just past the Meadowlands Sports Complex where the Jets and the Giants play. It was probably the hardest-hit of all towns along the Hackensack River, simply inundated by water late Monday night in a flash.

I came across Scott Lemongello as he canoed toward me, paddling right up to the edge of the town's submerged main drag. He said he had to get out of his house.

SCOTT LEMONGELLO: The water was up to, I think, chest high. But everything was fine. The water was up to your knee. But then the door just blew open. It looked like a scene from the "Titanic," just water just rushing in.

FOLKENFLIK: Lemongello is s a 25-year-old police officer. He said he ducked into a nearby home to pull two neighbors out of waist-deep water.

LEMONGELLO: I dragged them to the police station. The police station was already taking on water, so I had to head back to my house, which is like about 50 yards after that. The current of the surge coming in, it was - it took me 20 minutes to get from there to there.

FOLKENFLIK: Lemongello said his family lost four cars in all, ruined.

The rain itself wasn't that bad, despite the hurricane warnings. Officials are still trying to figure out what caused the tremendous wall of water that coursed through the area's drainage pipes and back into the streets, whether levees failed or as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said yesterday, whether water cascaded over the top of berms meant to protect the area, or what.

Cars were abandoned amid boulevards of water. The storm toppled wooden power poles and left electrical lines dangling. Rescue teams of firefighters, National Guardsmen and EMTs fanned out with SUVs and in boats to get people out. Dozens of people were pulled from two trailer parks alone.

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FOLKENFLIK: Next door in Little Ferry, sleep-deprived EMTs were bailing out Borough Hall with a dustpan and plastic trash bags. Here's Jackie McCormick.

JACKIE MCCORMICK: They had us go with our bus to pick everyone up and bring them here. Then eventually, we lost power, and then it started flooding pretty bad here. So then Bergen County set up a shelter in Teterboro at Bergen Tech. And then they came, and we've been shipping people over there all day.

FOLKENFLIK: At the Bergen County Vocational School, volunteers sought to help people who had been separated from relatives.

LAURIE SPADAFINO: They're taking people to eat.

FOLKENFLIK: Yeah. Oh, they are.

SPADAFINO: But they're not coming back here. Then they're taking them someplace else.

FOLKENFLIK: Someplace else.

SPADAFINO: So, start with him.

FOLKENFLIK: Volunteer Laurie Spadafino said she came to help others. But she was among those seeking information, too.

SPADAFINO: I have a friend in Moonachie, and I can't get in touch with them. You know, the cell reception is very spotty.

FOLKENFLIK: These were, by no means, the only places hit in New Jersey. Hoboken was among those hit hard. So were Atlantic City and many other seaside communities.

Governor Christie tweeted yesterday afternoon, quote, "The Jersey Shore of my youth is gone." Here, he spoke to NBC about the state of his state.

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GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: We have a battered, battered New Jersey Shore that I hope to tour a little bit later on today. But I think the losses are going to be almost incalculable.

FOLKENFLIK: More than 2.4 million homes were without power, according to state emergency officials. New Jersey Transit trains were suspended indefinitely. They carry commuters on roughly 900,000 trips each weekday.

And while some people were staying in their waterlogged homes in Little Ferry and Moonachie, there was no word - no clue, really - as to when the water would be gone for good and when they could start to assess and repair the damage caused by the storm.

FOLKENFLIK: David Folkenflik, NPR News.

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