Sandy - A Reckoning

Ghastly Dawn – The First Week

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Jul 07, 2013
Photo by: Ryan Morrill The day after, the view in Holgate on the south end of Long Beach Island, NJ.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 2.

 

The morning after was one that Islanders and mainlanders will not likely forget; they most certainly don’t want to ever see another dawn like that of Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012. Soon came a grim announcement from Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini: “There will be no permanent residency here until further notice.” Natural gas lines had ruptured in many places, especially Holgate, raising the imminent danger of gas-jet fires the likes of which had last night already consumed numerous coastal homes elsewhere in New Jersey and New York. At one point there were 18 simultaneous leaks in Ship Bottom; Mayor William Huelsenbeck later praised firefighters for heroically “preventing the town from catching fire.”

Departing The SandPaper office on Tuesday, managing editor Jay Mann caught a ride to his most familiar part of the Island – Holgate: “It’s so changed, I didn’t even know where I was,” he wrote of the surreal scene where “damage becomes full-blown destruction.” Along the entire beachfront, the dunes were wiped out; parts of them were reformed in huge mounds “where the Boulevard used to be.” Initial photos of damaged or wrecked homes, by then on the Internet, couldn’t tell the whole story: “[What] you can’t see is the wretched smell of raw gas from what the mayor says are dozens of leaks. You get a whiff and your stomach runs for cover, but there’s hardly any distance before a new load of gas fumes hit.”

Don and Clarice Karton endured three more days stranded in Holgate, finally getting out on Nov. 1 when they were able to start their Jeep Wrangler – which somehow survived the flood – to muscle over and around huge piles of sand. “We knew it was our responsibility to watch over ourselves and get ourselves out of there,” said Clarice. “If someone got hurt because they came to us, I couldn’t live with myself.”

Eleven days would pass before anyone but emergency personnel was allowed back into Holgate. Gas mains to the south end were shut down as soon as possible. Later, New Jersey Natural Gas shut down service to the entire Island by Thursday, Nov. 1 so as to expedite a full damage assessment and repairs. Electric power couldn’t be restored until all natural gas leaks were located and secured. There was also no water or sewer service for the south end.

Jim Eberwine, retired from the National Weather Service as a hurricane program manager in the Mount Holly office, stated Sandy will go on record as the costliest storm in New Jersey history. On LBI, where wind gusts peaked at 89 mph on Oct. 29 and floodwaters exceeded the March 1962 storm, Mayor Joseph Mancini estimated the cost in terms of losses and reconstruction work might reach a staggering $1 billion in just six towns.

 

South End: ‘A Sad State’

Among Beach Haven businesses, the Sea Shell Resort sustained the hardest direct hit from the sea, with its beachfront pool and outdoor tiki bar buried, oceanfront windows smashed and ground floor banquet hall and guest rooms flooded.

Only a few yards away, the neighboring oceanfront Engleside Inn escaped unscathed. “The only thing we had was a little rainwater in just a few of the rooms, the same thing we get in any nor’easter,” said John Hillman, one of the inn’s owners. With that surprising good fortune, the Engleside went from a fully-occupied, in-town evacuation center during the storm, to later the south end’s central lodging and food service site through the autumn and winter for contractors, FEMA staff, cleanup volunteers and displaced local residents.

A block inland on Engleside Avenue, Marie Coates had elected on Sunday to stay put in her St. Rita’s Hotel, a 150-year-old landmark. “I think I would have been a disaster if I’d been over there [on the mainland]. I’d have been worried sick about the place here,” Coates, 85, said in a day-after-Sandy phone interview from inside the hotel she has run since her late husband, Harold, purchased it in 1955. With the basement flooded and no immediate prospect for getting the hotel’s heat back on, she said she might need to take her Chihuahua,  Sasha, and cat, Skipper, with her on the short walk up to the Engleside Inn.

At the corner of Engleside and Beach avenues, the Long Beach Island Museum was just high enough to escape serious flood damage. But the storm nonetheless caused an estimated $120,000 in damage, primarily to the HVAC system in the 130-year-old former church. Across the street, Surflight Theatre sustained flooding more than 3 feet deep, erasing the November and December show schedule – an added blow to the Surflight’s recent financial struggles.

Throughout the rest of town, floodwaters reached inside every home and knocked out every business that had a ground-level floor, trashing tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, furnishings or inventory at nearly every address. A month later, local resident Eva Pfuhler was worried most about the “mom and pop” businesses in town: “They have really suffered… These are the seasonal businesses that are such a huge part of our community,” remarked Pfuhler, a member of the Beach Haven Future pro-business lobby established in early 2012.

Deb Whitcraft, who stayed at her Maritime Museum of New Jersey, witnessed the flood rise 5 feet deep on Dock Street during the evening peak tide of Oct. 29. The museum’s elevated first floor was barely touched, but the building suffered $80,000 in damages, mostly to a ground-level elevator. Elsewhere in Beach Haven and in Holgate the property damage, she said, was “incomprehensible.”

“I can’t imagine how many months for cleanup,” she remarked. “It’s just a really sad state of affairs.”

The Beach Haven Emergency Operations Center, the former Coast Guard station on Pelham Avenue, became the temporary shelter – minus heat and running water – for up to 80 fire and first aid squad volunteers, municipal employees and officials. A Fraternal Order of Police chapter from the Washington, D.C. area was on the frontline of arriving aid, delivering the shelter’s first significant relief including food, clothing, kerosene heaters and tents. “I’m very thankful for their help, because we are overwhelmed,” Beach Haven Councilman Jim White said at the shelter. “People are doing as best they can to cope with this very difficult situation.”

* * *

From their warehouse mainland location in Little Egg Harbor, Jetty apparel company owners Jeremy DeFilippis and Cory Higgins immediately got to work with a fundraising effort reminiscent of their American Red Cross contributions seven years ago for Hurricane Katrina relief. This time, their online call for donors to buy $20 storm relief T-shirts drew 10,000 orders in the first week on jettylife.com. An initial $11,000 was channeled to meet urgent need. “There are people volunteering in shelters and people working 24-hour shifts who have risked their lives to help others,” said DeFilippis, whose company is 10 years old in 2013. “We’re going to give those people some relief now.” (By Thanksgiving week, the fundraiser would exceed an astounding $200,000; it reached $230,000 by February, and the company established Jetty Rock Foundation as a legal charity entity to administer that massive infusion of cash.)

Amid recognition of the selfless work of many volunteers alongside public employees during and after the storm, Robert J. Murdock spoke up on behalf of the Ocean County Amateur Radio Emergency Service, which mobilized in anticipation of Sandy, and then facilitated communications at the evacuation shelters. “Many of us have also lost our homes and power, and sacrificed like many others, but we continue to volunteer because the shelters have requested our presence,” he wrote to The SandPaper.

The New Jersey National Guard deployed 196 soldiers during three weeks of LBI operations, utilizing Humvees and heavy trucks to assist with evacuations or deliver relief supplies. “These vehicles can get to places where the police cars and other vehicles can’t, and there has been a lot of flooding that makes it inaccessible for many vehicles. We’re covering all 18 miles of the Island,” said First Sgt. David Moore. Guard units also helped local police on land while Coast Guard and state Marine Police boats patrolled the bay to enforce a dark-to-dawn curfew just in case potential looters had an idea of using boats to slip into the no-entry zones.

Also assisting New Jersey State Police was a contingent of state troopers from Louisiana, where there has been extensive experience in hurricane recovery since Katrina in 2005.

In Harvey Cedars, about 50 year-round residents had intended to stay with their homes in town. But as Sandy intensified on Monday afternoon, they entertained second thoughts about risking the next high tide. The High Point Volunteer Fire Co. answered their appeals, evacuating them to mainland school shelters. Harvey Cedars was the New Jersey bull’s eye of the 1962 Ash Wednesday Storm. The town suffered epic destruction. Evacuee holdouts took a last stand inside the High Point firehouse or the island-like refuge of the Harvey Cedars Bible Conference. All around them, as each high tide swept the entire town for three days, some 350 houses – half the town – were either ruined on site or floated into the bay. Fifty years later, Sandy forced the ocean through town again at Bergen and Essex avenues, with water running down the streets to the bay, according to Harvey Cedars Mayor Jonathan Oldham. Yet this time, an engineered beach defense completed in 2010 made a difference.

“I believe that if there had not been beach replenishment in our town and in Surf City, the whole stretch from Loveladies to Surf City might be looking like what Holgate looks like right now,” Oldham said. The federal government paid most of the $25 million cost of the six-month project in Harvey Cedars; the borough paid about $1.1 million.

“If it wasn’t for beach replenishment, the damage in Harvey Cedars would have been catastrophic,” asserted Holly Avenue resident Dan Sheplin. “We would have lost a lot of homes. The homes on the oceanfront would have gone quickly.”

Writing later to The SandPaper, Harvey Cedars residents Jim Finne and Marianne McGarrity publicly thanked their town’s team of leaders for the beach replenishment project. “And, [to] the shortsighted property owners who would not sign easement rights to the town, you owe this team an apology … they saved your views because they saved your houses.” That was a jab at the town’s 11 oceanfront property owners who refused to sign beachfill construction easements. The town pushed the project ahead anyway in 2009, exercising eminent domain over private property for the public good. As a result, the town faced costly lawsuits, one of which resulted in a $375,000 judgment against the town in spring 2012 because of a homeowner’s diminished ocean view. (The case went to the New Jersey Supreme Court in May 2013; a decision was expected in July.)

“Beach replenishment worked,” Long Beach Township Mayor Mancini said, regarding the spring 2012 work completed for a stretch of Brant Beach. By vivid contrast, the ocean storm surge exploded through the township’s North Beach section, revealed to be a vulnerable gap between the engineered beaches of Surf City (2006) and Harvey Cedars. “The damage wouldn’t have been as catastrophic if the entire Island had been replenished,” asserted Mancini, with renewed anger against LBI oceanfront homeowners who since 2005 have blocked the ongoing Army Corps of Engineers project. From the time he took office in 2008, the mayor has waged a public campaign against the holdouts. The day after Sandy, he vowed, “We’re going to make sure those easements get signed.” On Election Day a week later, voters empowered Mancini with the means to pursue that goal: they re-elected him to a second, four-year term on the Long Beach Township Commission.

* * *

Bayside flooding was substantial in Surf City, although less severe than south of the Causeway bridges, which seemed to act as a bottleneck to south-north movement of the bay flooding. Surf City Councilwoman Bettie Creevy said her house was untouched by the 1962 flood, yet Sandy raised water 25 inches inside. While the Ship Bottom fire station was badly hurt – later tallied at $400,000 in damages to the station, vehicles and equipment, according to fire company president Dan English – the Surf City station was just high enough. “On Monday night, we just kind of watched the water go up and up and up … we got up in the morning, there was a line where it stopped right at the door of the firehouse,” said Peter Hartney, president of Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 and EMS. During the storm, the station housed about 40 Islanders who fled their homes. When the flood receded, they were moved to shelters on the mainland. The station, meanwhile, was needed by some now-homeless fire company members. “I can say most of my first-responder friends that live on the Island have lost most of what they have,” reported Surf City Fire Chief Brian Stasik. Soon the station became an operations and supply center for the mid-Island disaster response. The Jetty company donated 30 air mattresses so displaced fire company members didn’t have to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, a fire company on the other side of the state got going on a bigger response.

“They said they were in desperate need; and people in our community, and the Delran fire department, said we’re going to do something,” Delran Fire Department Deputy Chief John Martino said at the Surf City firehouse on Saturday, Nov. 3. Delran, a town of about 19,000 residents located in Burlington County near the Delaware River, spread the word on Facebook and donated enough “water, food, blankets, baby supplies, you name it,” to send trucks back and forth to Surf City five times in 24 hours. “We started yesterday, and the community outreach in Delran was phenomenal,” Martino said about the town that Money Magazine has listed among the 100 best small towns in America.

“It makes you feel good about humanity again. This just came out of the blue,” Surf City Fire Co. Lt. Lou McCall said. That relief – along with daily hot meals prepared in the station kitchen by Scott Russo and his ScoJo’s Restaurant staff, and Scott Suydam, a cook and caterer from Okie’s Butcher Shop – helped take the edge off the nerves of shaken storm victims. Both Surf City businesses on the Boulevard suffered substantial flood damage.

“We’re trying to do what we can and make due with what we have,” said Suydam.

“We’re no worse than anyone else,” said Russo. “We’re going to get things repaired and get people back to work.” Free hot meals continued to be provided to the public and utility repair crews until Nov. 21.

* * *

The Barnegat Light oceanfront, protected by acres of historic sand dunes and a wide beach that was greatly enhanced by the new South Jetty completed in 1988, fared the best among LBI towns. The ocean entered the town at 4th and 30th streets, the locations of vehicle access to the beach, but caused little harm. Flooding from the bay reached as far as Central Avenue, according to Barnegat Light Councilman Dave Bossi. He said a flood line measured at the Viking Village commercial fishing dock revealed it peaked about two inches higher than a line marking the flood from 1991 – a reference to the Halloween Storm made famous in North Atlantic weather history in the best-seller novel The Perfect Storm.

Next Week: “Of Things Once Known.”

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