Tucked away in a corner of the Meadowlands, with just two square miles and 2,700 residents, Moonachie is easy to overlook, but it holds a special place in the hearts of people like Frank Smith, who call it their home. Smith grew up in Moonachie and has spent over two decades as captain of the rescue squad and assistant chief of the fire department, so he’s seen a little bit of everything over the years, from fires to plane crashes to industrial accidents. But the devastation he saw the morning after Sandy was unlike anything he’d ever witnessed.
The nearby Hackensack River had overflowed its banks in the middle of the night, flooding nearly the entire town under several feet of water. Even the rescue squad was put out of commission. Walking through what was left of the building, six months after the storm, Smith said the damage was immense. The squad is staffed around the clock by a team of volunteers who use it as their living quarters when they’re on duty. They furnished it with couches, an entertainment center, and all the comforts of home, but everything succumbed to the floodwaters, including a recently redone kitchen and decades worth of files.
While the squad has done some repairs to make the building livable, they still need to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace equipment and add a second level to provide protection from future storms. It’s been difficult, Smith says, to continue to work with things the way they are.
We checked in with Smith last week for an update, but it was a short conversation, because a year after Sandy, he said hardly anything had changed. There have been some small, gradual improvements around town, like the repairs to the firehouse, which he noted are now halfway complete. But the Borough Hall is still operating out of temporary trailers, and at the rescue squad, there’s scant reason for hope. “I really thought we would have been farther along at this point,” he said. Other Moonachie residents worried that in the aftermath of Sandy, it’s felt at times like their tiny community has been a “forgotten child” compared with the Jersey Shore.
Smith is concerned that the more time goes on, the less people will realize that places like Moonachie are still struggling to get back on their feet. “There were a lot of donations at the beginning, but now they’ve dropped off. It’s out of people’s minds now,” he said.