In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, floodwaters covered much of Hoboken, NJ for three days, bringing a variety of toxins such as botulism. The storm surge was so strong that it shoved aside sandbags and struck cars with such force that their windows rolled down. Heating oil tanks were toppled, causing leaks. Oil floated on the water surface, sparking fears of fire.
As a condo board president in a building that experienced flooding, we were essentially in a self-reporting situation. City officials asked homeowners to report oil contamination but were unclear as to how to spot contamination. After researching the issue, I was able to determine that my building did not have actionable oil contamination. The rainbow slicks I saw were most likely gasoline that could be sanitized by a powerwasher and cleaning solution. The contamination that city officials were seeking was puddles of heating oil, which would have appeared black and sticky.
Some homeowners were unaware they had oil contamination – several months after Sandy, they received a knock on the door from officials who notified them they would receive free backyard cleanup to remove environmental hazards. My building, which has a courtyard and several private backyards, did not receive such a visit.
In many instances, we do not know the causes of contamination. In Bayonne, homeowners returned after Sandy to find a mysterious oil slick covering their homes and cars – an official stated it was “an unrefined substance that likely rose up from the ground with the surge caused by Hurricane Sandy.”
With cold weather setting in and temporary housing scarce and costly, the majority of homeowners were eager to return home and begin cleanup onsite. During Sandy, contractors throughout the state of New Jersey were flooded out of their business places, experiencing damage to their properties and equipment. My condo association manager had to import vendors from Pennsylvania to get work done quickly and at a reasonable price. Repair estimates in the aftermath of Sandy were double and triple the normal rates.
There are many types of oil contamination, with varying toxicity levels. Testing typically takes 4-6 weeks – with the exception of Hoboken Catholic Academy, I do not know anyone who waited to conduct environmental tests before reoccupying their property. With contractors overscheduled and expensive, many owners did not know the full extent of the damage to their properties for weeks or months after Sandy. After the damage assessment came insurance claims, which took 4-6 months. In many instances, repairs did not begin until insurance checks arrived – a number of owners are appealing the claims.
The long-term environmental impact of Sandy is still unfolding – you can see the damage timeline as it took place in real time.
Kathy Zucker, CEO of Metro Moms Network, mother of three young children and winner of the New York Life Keep Good Going Shorty Award, writes about juggling career and family in an urban setting. Subscribe to MomCondoLiving.com, follow her on Twitter (@KathyZucker), or friend her on Facebook.