By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer
Lying in his truck’s bunk, Lawrence Armstrong was startled as violent winds rocked his truck.
Alarmed, Armstrong looked outside his bunk window, and saw water rising to his truck’s hubs.
Later, he spoke to his wife by cellphone as the water and wind kept coming.
“I might lose this truck,” Armstrong told her, his voice hinting at even deeper concerns.
Like many truckers along the eastern seaboard, and especially those near New York and New Jersey, Armstrong had worried whether he’d get caught in the storm and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
As it turned out, his truck was one of thousands damaged by the floodwaters of the hurricane, which carried chemicals, oceanic saltwater and plenty of truck-sized hazards in its wake.
The storm has totaled a reported 250,000 cars and likely damaged more than 1,000 trucks, according to one OOIDA expert.
George Odom, physical damage assistant supervisor of Commercial Truck Claims Management Inc., which administers OOIDA claims, said more than 200 members with OOIDA insurance had filed a claim in the first two weeks after Hurricane Sandy for floodwater damage.
Odom once worked repairing flood-damaged cars. He said floodwater with high concentrations of saltwater, like floods caused by Hurricane Sandy, can corrode truck and engine parts faster than floods like those after Hurricane Irene.
“With freshwater, it takes a little while but it will corrode it,” Odom said. “As soon as saltwater hits and washes back down, it seems like the corrosion starts so much faster.”
One OOIDA member can testify to the swift damage of saltwater corrosion. William Harty of Linden, NJ, saw his four-truck business become a three-truck business overnight because of the hurricane.
Harty told “Land Line Now” he was hauling a flatbed load in Massachusetts when Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey.
After bobtailing his International 9900 back home to New Jersey the day after the storm, Harty went to start his Freightliner FLD. After it wouldn’t start, Harty realized his truck was one of nearly 100 other trucks that were flooded while parked in the lot.
The speed of both the flood’s build-up and drainage was stunning.
“I’m realizing that everything around was flooded – the warehouse and everything,” Harty said. “We’re talking about five, six, seven feet of water, easy.”
Harty said there were probably only six guys that didn’t have flood damage.
Harty, who runs his Bandwagon Express company with his father, also had a Peterbilt parked in the lot. That truck, fortunately, was parked on high ground and didn’t sustain damage, he said.
Armstrong, an OOIDA member from Indian Trail, NC, had arrived to drop a dry van load at Edison, NJ, just after 9 a.m. that day, he told “Land Line Now.” While the receiver finished some three hours later, Armstrong’s dispatcher worked with the warehouse to find him a load to return with.
By that afternoon, it was too late for Armstrong to get a load and too late for him to make it out of New Jersey.
For safety reasons, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had barred all trucks with empty trailers from highway travel – preventing Armstrong from leaving Edison, which is situated where U.S. Route 1 and Interstate 287 meet.
Talking to another driver parked near him, Armstrong and the other driver decided they needed to move their trucks to higher ground.
As Armstrong tried to follow the other driver, water engulfed the parking lot on two sides, quickly flooding up to his truck’s headlights.
“It engulfed me and he’s punching through,” Armstrong said. “The water at this point is up to my headlights, and I knew I couldn’t follow him.”
Armstrong tried backing his empty trailer up, but the current from the water caused it to jackknife. He moved forward and back, in an effort to straighten the trailer and park as close to the warehouse wall as possible. He got so close to the building that opening his door was impossible.
“I just sit there and wait, and the water is rising,” Armstrong told “Land Line Now,” his voice breaking while recounting the night. “I’m trying to calm myself down and figure out ‘how can I survive this with an empty trailer. If it gets too high, I’m just going to float away.’”
Armstrong talked to his wife by phone and waited.
By midnight, he said, the wind stopped howling. Around 2 a.m., the water calmed and seemed to be receding.
“By 4 a.m. I could see the white lines of the parking lot,” Armstrong said “I said, ‘I just hope that when I get back out of the top bunk and put my feet on the floor it’s dry. That’s all I want.’ It was dry.”
Armstrong climbed outside and saw two trucks floating in the distance, one with cab lights flickering. He noticed a water line about one inch from his truck’s floorboard. Popping the hood, he found his engine oil was black.
His engine started. After some trouble, it slipped into gear.
Armstrong spent several hours disassembling and blowing out his truck from headlight cover to hub. He believes his total bill after the flood will run $1,500 to $2,000 – a bill he considers a bargain after watching the hurricane’s treachery from his bunk.
“There’s not much truckers get upset about enough to bring them to tears,” Armstrong said. “But losing a truck …”
Land Line Now Reporter Reed Black contributed to this article.