On Jan. 7, an escalator full of rush-hour commuters at a PATH station in Jersey City suddenly reversed direction, causing panic and sending people tumbling.

How could something like that happen?

Well, officials are now blaming damage from Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the station with 12 feet of saltwater. The corrosive saltwater apparently damaged the escalator's electrical components.

This will not be the last such incident. Saltwater and electricity are a bad mix. The salt corrodes wires and increases conductivity. And the next such accident - on an escalator or, say, in a New York City subway tunnel, which were also flooded, could well be catastrophic.

Officials, of course, have inspected equipment and declared it safe, but the damage that saltwater does to wiring is insidious and not always easy to find.

And South Jersey residents whose homes were flooded by Sandy, while they don't have escalators to worry about, should be taking very seriously the official warnings about replacing anything electrical that came in contact with saltwater.

Now, as the flood waters have receded, as things are drying out, property owners may well be inclined to lower their guard - and consider cutting corners to save some money.

Don't do it, folks.

An even scarier prospect: Many owners of second homes haven't even been down to the shore to check on their houses yet.

These kinds of secondary, not immediately visible problems from Sandy are going to be coming to the fore now and will likely be a concern for years.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Community Affairs and others insist that any wiring, circuit breakers, receptacles, switches and any other electrical equipment that was touched by saltwater be replaced. If your electrical panel was underwater, do not turn on any breakers, even if everything seems fine. The deterioration may have only increased in the months after the storm, and any additional electrical load can trigger a short-circuit.

Yes, the problems posed by Sandy seem overwhelming sometimes. But the region will get through this, one small step at a time.

Meanwhile, Kevin Inskip - who spent months repairing his flood-damaged Brigantine home only to see it heavily damaged once again by a fire just as he and his wife were about to move back in - has a small practical suggestion that should help save lives and homes: battery-operated smoke detectors.

"If you're back in your home, you need a smoke detector," he said.

Inskip convinced several electrical contractors to donate smoke detectors that are being distributed in Brigantine. They would be a smart idea for anyone whose electrical system came in contact with saltwater.

Heed the warnings, folks. Sandy is not done with us yet.