The storm basically gutted this Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Supermarkets in the storm-ravaged Northeastern U.S. crept slowly back to life in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many fueled by generator power and operating with skeleton crews to provide what service they could to their devastated communities.
“It’s not just a handful of communities that have been affected — it’s hundreds of communities,” said Linda Doherty, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Food Council, based in Trenton. “It’s overwhelming. A lot of our members have employees who were displaced as well — it’s mind-numbing to think of all those people who don’t have homes to go to any more.”
Doherty estimated that most of the supermarkets in New Jersey, whose shoreline communities bore the brunt of the storm’s destructive power, were back up and running within a week. Several supermarkets in the region, however — including some in New York — were either destroyed or badly flooded by the historically high tidal surge that accompanied what some had dubbed “Frankenstorm” as it slammed ashore two days before Halloween.
In Hoboken, N.J., a ShopRite remained shuttered a week after floodwaters turned part of the low-lying city into a sewage-contaminated lake.
“We don’t have a timeline [to reopen the store] at this point,” a spokeswoman for Keasbey, N.J.-based Wakefern told SN. “Hoboken was hit pretty hard.”
Not far away, a Fairway in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was so badly flooded that the interior was basically gutted, and reports indicated it could take months to reopen.
Local reports also cited damage to other stores throughout the region, and some stores remained closed due to lack of power.
Immediately following the storm, about 2.6 million New Jersey homes and businesses were without electricity, and a million of those remained off the power grid a full week later. In addition, both retailers and consumers faced a severe fuel crisis as the gas-distribution infrastructure was crippled.
“Food, fuel and power are the trinity of a civil society, and when these three commodities became compromised all at once for a sustained period of time, this created the public panic and consumer uncertainty we experienced in New Jersey,” Doherty told SN.
Through its experience in coping with past crises, the NJFC had developed a disaster preparedness plan that it was able to put to use in the wake of Sandy, Doherty explained.
“It helped in terms of the interdependencies, working with the state agencies and the other private-sector industries — the petroleum industry and the utilities industries,” she said.
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Doherty worked from the state’s Regional Operations Intelligence Center — dubbed “the Rock” — in West Trenton, helping coordinate food distribution, power restoration and other issues of concern to the association’s members and their communities. The NJFC is a co-chair of the 20-industry private-sector task force that works at the ROIC during emergency situations.
“Last year, it was as if Hurricane Irene was a test run for this catastrophe,” she said. “We worked out many of the kinks with that last storm, and we were a pretty well-oiled machine at the ROIC, working with our government partners. We are in the right position at the right time to help lead our communities out of this disaster.”
She noted that when it became obvious that power would be out for an extended time in many areas — some power lines were not just knocked down, but swept away into the ocean — the NJFC suggested to its members that they donate their product to local food banks before it spoiled, and it supplied members with the contact information for food banks in areas of need.
“Having the foresight at the very beginning of the storm to do that I think helped a lot of communities,” she said.