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Hoboken, New Jersey (AFP) Nov 1, 2012
In a town with few working televisions, almost no electricity to recharge laptops and limited cellphone reception, the mayor of one of New York's richest suburbs traveled back in time Thursday to address worried citizens.
Standing on the steps of Hoboken City Hall, Mayor Dawn Zimmer raised her voice to promise several hundred people that attempts to restore life to normal in the wake of Hurricane Sandy were succeeding.
"I'm so proud of our community. Our community is coming together. We're going to make it through this," she said.
Like every American public official these days, Zimmer has a Facebook page, Twitter feed and makes frequent television and radio show appearances.
But Sandy knocked out power to nearly every home, flooded the streets and threw this community of 50,000 just across the Hudson River from Manhattan back into the pre-digital age.
So Zimmer had to reach out the old-fashioned way: democracy, village-style.
The New Jersey town's residents bombarded her with difficult questions.
When would fuel be available? What about security at night in pitch-dark streets? Was the oil that mixed into the floodwaters toxic?
Patiently, Zimmer tried to satisfy the crowd, promising to speed up the current estimate of seven to 10 days to restore electricity, and sometimes admitting that she was as much in the dark as everyone else.
Was it possible to get a hot shower anywhere?
"I had my cold shower this morning, so I know your pain," Zimmer responded with a chuckle.
People in the crowd said they came because they had no other way to get up-to-date news.
They did, actually: an equally retro notice board where officials periodically handwrote notices about power, water supply and other crucial matters.
Despite the obvious limitations of Zimmer's appearance, with many people unable to hear, Alice Cummings, 30, said she appreciated the attempt. "At least they're trying to speak to us and communicate," she said.
Her friend Lauren Mecka, 20, said "it rallies people, gets people out, even if it doesn't give you inspiration that things are necessarily going to get better."
Another example of the return to old values has been the spontaneous outpouring of volunteerism.
Cummings and Mecka were among the many donating boxes to the food bank, while the few restaurants able to reopen have been offering free tea and coffee. Squads of volunteers visit the elderly to make sure they have food and medicine.
And in a piece of high-tech neighborliness, residents of a street that was miraculously spared the general power outage welcomed strangers to come charge their phones.
Power cords with multiple sockets stretched to the sidewalk all along the street. Some homeowners put out chairs where people could rest while charging. There were even tables with coffee and biscuits and outside one house, the owner invited people to use his WiFi network, cheekily named Sandy.
"The little girl here made me some hot apple cider to drink while I charge my phone. I almost cried," said Janitta Irwin, 39.
Irwin was stranded in Hoboken when her flight back home to Minneapolis was canceled due to Sandy. "It's nice to see people actually care," she said.
In the center of town, the battery company Duracell was doing its bit by handing out free batteries -- about 7,000 just on Thursday -- for use in torches and radios. All day long, hundreds of people calmly lined up.
They could also charge their phones at the Duracell truck and even surf the Internet on one of three computers.
At night, Hoboken travels even further back in time. This may be home to the super wealthy like New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, whose own luxury apartment building didn't escape the flooding, but the darkness overtaking the city does not discriminate.
Zimmer said Wednesday that about 90 percent of Hoboken was without power.
"It's shocking to see, especially at night with the power out," said Sergeant Major Thomas Alexander, among the National Guard soldiers -- also volunteers -- who were sent to help relief efforts in Hoboken.
"You always see it happening on TV in a different place. Not here."
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