Candles and warm water became valued commodities. Damage to cell phone towers knocked out all communications in many spots, or made reception spotty elsewhere.
As the days wore on, there was limited online information on the Bernards Township school website, and the days off from school stretched out into a good part, or all, of a two-week period in Basking Ridge, Bedminster and the Somerset Hills school district in Bernardsville.
First it was dark, and roads were blocked by demolished trees and fallen power lines that were too dangerous to touch. Then gasoline supplies ran low — then snow fell, and it got colder.
Hurricane Sandy is an experience that those living in the Somerset Hills at the time will not forget for as long as they live.
"It's hard to believe we are coming up on the one year mark," said Bernards Township Police Lt. Mike Shimsky, who also coordinated the township's all-systems-go emergency management response last Oct. 29. He, and others, said that that response system has only been honed since Sandy struck the area.
Shimsky, like others who were involved directly in the response, pointed out that he was struck by the willingness of volunteers, municipal employees who seldom went home and neighbors helping neighbors during the emergency period. Like others, he also said that the biggest challenge seemed to be working with Jersey Central Power & Light Co. for the restoration of power as soon as possible in hard-hit towns.
The morning after the storm, the power outage in Basking Ridge and Bernardsville was virtually 100 percent.
Nevertheless, "What sticks most in my mind most were the examples that I witnessed of neighbors helping one another when we appeared to be cut off from the rest of the world," Shimsky said on Monday.
Shimsky said it was also very memorable to see the dedication of the township's employees working long hours every day to try to bring life in the township back to normal as quickly as possible. "I remember DPW [Department of Public Works] employees out in harm's way in the hours following the storm with trees falling around them as they worked to clear roadways for emergency vehicles."
He said police officers and Bernards Township's all-volunteer fire and emergency medical crews worked tirelessly through the days and nights responding to what appeared to be an "insurmountable" number of calls. The Basking Ridge Fire Co. answered a call during the storm of a roof which collapsed on a home, trapping an elderly woman in her bed.
Bernards Township Chief Financial Officer Terri Johnson noted, "I don’t think anyone will forget the devastation in town — and how hard it is to be without electricity and gas — but the way everyone came together to assist their neighbors, co-workers and complete strangers was really touching."
Using the same words as Shimsky, Bernardsville Mayor Lee Honecker said that what sticks in his mind a year later is how well the municipal staff and municipal volunteers came together on short notice to respond to our residents in a time of need.
"From the police to the public works department to the administrative staff to the library staff to the fire department to the rescue squad to the shelter volunteers, all conducted themselves admirably," Honecker said on Monday, referring also to the professional and volunteer staff that ran a local shelter for Sandy refugees — including those that were medically frail — that started as a local shelter and became a multi-county shelter for those displaced by Sandy in the gym and nearby space at Bernards High School.
"I am very proud of them," the Bernardsville mayor said. He said it is comforting to know such "outstanding individuals" are around to be counted on in an emergency.
Honecker said he believes that as a whole, Bernardsville suffered the most damage of any non-coastal municipality in New Jersey. "Our borough was in an awful state."
Honecker added he feels the borough made the right decision to collect storm debris and fallen trees from borough properties. With the collection as part of the borough's response, Sandy cost Bernardsville in excess of $2 million. Honecker said that Bernardsville has received more than $1 million in reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency so far, and expects more funding from FEMA in the near future.
Shimsky said he expects that Bernards Township, which did not collect Sandy debris from private property, can ultimately expect about 90 percent reimbursement for costs related to the emergency.
In Bernards Township, Chief Financial Officer Terri Johnson said that the municipality so far has collected about $132,000 from FEMA. She said earlier figures released by Township Administrator Bruce McArthur still are accurate.
McArthur said the township had declared a $250,000 emergency last year, and funded the full amount in the 2013 municipal budget. He said the $250,000 emergency funds paid for the hiring of tree professionals and storm debris disposal costs. Johnson said the cost of tree removal continues.
McArthur said earlier this year that the township had received an insurance settlement $121,000 for items including included damaged guardrails, fencing and other equipment.
He said the township ultimately expects to collect about $250,000 to $275,000 from FEMA for the protective measures and debris cleanup combined. The Bernards Township Sewerage Authority also may collect an additional $40,000 to $50,000, McArthur said.
McArthur estimated earlier this year that the township had spent about $600,000 on the storm, including election mobilization, communications, power outage communication, mobilizing an command center, clean-up and more, and the final net cost to the township will be in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $350,000.
Lessons learned and steps taken after Sandy
The borough of Bernardsville had dug deeply into emergency management prior to Sandy — following outages caused by Hurricane Irene and the October snowstorm in 2011 — and many of those preparations bore fruit during Sandy.
That included relying on a trained emergency staff even beyond volunteers — and even investing in equipment such as an all-terrain vehicle that was used to reach an injured resident whose road was blocked by trees and wires.
"I think we all now dread the possibility of another storm," Bernards Township Mayor Carolyn Gaziano said on Monday. "But I do believe we are in a much better position due to changes and improvements made since then."
Those improvements include the installation of a larger generator at the municipal building to keep all municipal functions powered up during a storm, as well as a renovation of the court and main meeting room at the municipal building at 1 Collyer Lane to serve as a command center and place to charge devices during an emergency.
Just this month, the township also launched a Swiftreach emergency response system will allow officials to communicate quickly and effectively to the whole town or geographic sections of town in the event of an emergency, Gaziano said.
"I think most residents now have a better understanding of the need to prepare before an emergency," Gaziano said "It's a good reminder to make sure you keep a supply of non-perishable foods, batteries, flashlights or battery lanterns, and wood on hand. Fill your cars with gas before a storm."
The township issued a list of ways to prepare beforehand.
What will you remember most about Sandy, before during and after? What would you like to forget? Tell us in the comments section below.