Panelists at Friday's NAIOP event
described shipping containers being
tossed around like toys by Sandy.

ELIZABETH, NJ-Still a bit shell-shocked from superstorm Sandy’s damage to ports and shipping lines a month after the deluge, industry officials and operators gathered at a NAIOP seminar Friday morning to share assessments of wreckage, marvel at the ports having re-opened within days, and try to stare into the future: What absolutely needs to change now?

“It’s a new reality,” said state Department of Transportation commissioner James Simpson. Then, he quipped: “I’m thinking about buying an electric car.”

Panelists at the session, held at the New York Shipping Association Center at Port Elizabeth, described massive shipping containers being tossed about like toy blocks and boats floating over security fences into freight yards in the Oct. 29 storm. But the consensus seemed to be the most surprising widespread loss was to fleets of vehicles taken out when salt-water surged into engine blocks.

An estimated 2,500 port drayage trucks were lost because of salt-water contamination, said Dennis Lombardi, deputy director of port commerce for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In addition, approximately 1,600 cars parked at ground level at shipping/logistics centers were swamped by sea water.

He and several operators on the panel – “Transportation & Logistics Regional Update and Response to Superstorm Sandy” – suggested that rebuilding efforts should include more vertical garages and disaster plans should incorporate mandates for deploying all vehicles from port areas.

Tom Adamski, chief executive of Cross Port Transport, described his own skepticism of weather reports before the storm, and how he drove around in a truck after the surge had begun – only to discover he could not exit the Pulaski Skyway toward the port because the roadways were submerged.

Making his way to Cross Port’s Kearny facility, Adamski said, he saw boats from the nearby Passaic Yacht Club “intermingled” with tractors and trailers strewn about the yard. A 50-year veteran of the industry, Adamski said he eventually talked his way past security guards into the port area, and saw a group of trucks filled with water up to their dashboards.

Adamski called for an early-alert system in which owner/operators of transport vehicles and equipment would be notified – either through government channels, or industry groups – whenever a storm with potentially disastrous consequences is threatening.

Supply lines would still be disrupted that way in the event of a hurricane, he noted – but recovery would be quicker.

Lombardi said the projected timetable for restoring and repairing all transport facilities and operations “probably takes us to 2015.”

Both he and John Atkins, COO of Global Terminal & Container Services, displayed photos of devastating damage: a rail-car float broken in half at Greenville Yards in Jersey City; gargantuan, weirdly askew towers of shipping containers inside terminals – and out- some of them on public roadways; and containers that floated all the way across the Arthur Kill.

At Global’s Bayonne facility, a brand-new building had water rush right through its walls, Atkins said, and it will have to be re-framed.

Lombardi and others congratulated the “maritime community” for coming together in a crisis, citing the fact that various operators were willing to help out their competition in the immediate aftermath of the storm and “horsetrade” equipment or leads on needed services.

“We did a great job this time,” said Ann Strauss-Weider, who heads a company with her name and who lead the discussion at the NAIOP session. “We are still compiling the data to define the supply chain impact, but the immediate recovery was very quick.” After the “unimaginable” disaster of the 9-11 attack, she said, the logistics industry had been forced to change its mindset, which made a strong difference in last year’s Hurricane Irene, and also 2012’s Sandy.