Holgate Couple Narrowly Escapes Trailer Park Following Superstorm Sandy

By MICHAEL MOLINARO | Nov 15, 2012
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Making the choice to stay in the southernmost trailer in Farreny’s Family RV Park & Boat Basin during the approach of Superstorm Sandy, Holgate residents Clarice and Don Karton believed they were taking an acceptable risk – but if they guessed wrong, they didn’t want to risk anyone else’s life on their account.

“We chose to stay,” said Clarice. “I refuse to put someone else in jeopardy because of my decisions. We knew it was our responsibility to watch over ourselves and get ourselves out of there. If someone got hurt because they came to get us, I couldn’t live with myself.”

A neighbor left them with a key to a nearby house should they need access to it.

“It seems like – nothing against weathermen – but they’re never right. And we felt since we had the house across the street we’d be fine,” said Clarice.

As the storm made landfall Monday night, however, it became clear to the Kartons that things would be anything but fine.

“We didn’t sleep at all,” said Clarice. Water reached head-high level, nearly six feet. The two grabbed their “bug-out bags” and rushed into their neighbor’s house, where they spent the night watching for debris that would damage either their trailer or the house they now stayed in.

This included a 15-foot wooden deck that floated down West Avenue, straight for the couple’s trailer. Clarice attached a 150-foot piece of heavy rope to Don, who trudged out into water up to his chin, exerting great physical effort to push the deck away.

A telephone pole piling slammed into the deck of the house they were in. They worried it would break the deck off, possibly trapping the couple inside. Don was able to tie the piling to the decking stairs.

At one point, Don was able to secure a toolbox representing his livelihood and filled with thousands of dollars worth of tools, most likely now useless after it began floating away.

“I was scared,” said Clarice. “I didn’t want anything to happen to him. He felt he could do it and I knew that I would pull him back in, no matter what; it wasn’t an option.”

By the next day, the water had receded to waist-high level. The Kartons realized damage to their trailer would make it a total loss. Despite a three-foot base on which it was perched, water was six inches over the floorboards and into compartments below, necessary for electricity.

On Tuesday, the two disregarded the safety and health issues of being in waist-high water and headed to “the wooden jetty” – a nickname for a popular surfing spot on the southern edge of Holgate, which represented the main reason the couple lived there. Don is an avid participant in the sport.

“You couldn’t get your bearings. Nothing was recognizable. That parking lot is gone,” said Clarice, referring to the entrance to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Reserve. “It was hard to fathom this was a place I rode my bike everyday.”

Meals were cooked on the propane tanks in their trailer and carried back through the waist-high water to the house their neighbor let them stay in. They sparingly washed their hands using bottled water.

The Kartons had parked their two cars – a Ford Focus and a Jeep Wrangler – at the highest point possible, allowing them to charge their cell phones and relay conditions to friends and neighbors. They used the gas of the Focus until depleted, and saved the Jeep for possible evacuation.

On Wednesday, Oct. 31 the Kartons began to realize they would have to leave, beginning with worry over looters. “We had seen two men in a boat,” said Clarice. “They said they had broke down and had no gas. But when they realized the police would be coming, they hauled across the bay.”

Once again the two were unable to sleep. “With every little noise you would think, ‘Is someone going to break in?’ and walk around the house making sure you didn’t see anything.”

By Thursday morning, health concerns seemed to mount. The acrid scent of natural gas was thick in the air now.  “It took your breath away,” said Clarice. “It looked like air bubbling up through water and sand. It was the gas.”

And following his efforts Monday night, Don had cuts on his legs from wood with protruding nails.

The two proceeded to load their Jeep, bringing their dog and cat as well as the neighbor’s dog from the house in which they had stayed.

The drive out represented the scariest part of the storm for Clarice, much more terrifying than the storm itself.

To exit Holgate, they first drove up five to 10 feet of sand. Dunes once on the beachfront now were piled throughout the boulevard, though the sand was muddy and caused conditions Clarice described as like “the worst snow storm you ever had to drive in,” and similar to “off-road four-wheeling, but not for fun.”

“I had no control over (the Jeep) wanting to sink and slide and get stuck. The drive she describes was a single mile from the southernmost tip of LBI to the Sea Spray Motel, where the first dry pavement was seen.

Clarice said, “Hold on, I’m just going to have to go for this,” as she repeatedly slammed the undercarriage of the vehicle, waiting for the muffler or catalytic converter to tear off, not to mention a spark possibly igniting an explosion from the gas now permeating the saltwater. Amazingly, the vehicle took no discernible damage. Now before them lay an appalling view of the damage to the rest of Long Beach Island.

Clarice stopped momentarily as she shook uncontrollably, and cried.

The gas leaks remained a scare as the couple left Long Beach Island, the smell only intensifying along the way.

“We just felt so dirty and scummy by the end of it,” said Don, recalling a memorable moment as the two stopped for cigarettes at a gas station in northern New Jersey, making their way to his parents’ house. “People were staring at us because we still had muck and mud all over us. We felt very displaced.”

Don said his body was still sore a week after the storm from the physical exertion used protecting his property. “Nothing was going to knock my trailer off its foundation,” said Don. “And the people nice enough to let us stay at their house didn’t want anything happening to their house.”

“I do feel stronger as a person,” said Don. “If I left, I wouldn’t know what I know now: what happened, what the Island looked like. I don’t regret staying.”

The Kartons start over now, essentially homeless. Still, Don can’t wait to get back. “The Island was my savior. I surf to stay alive, because that keeps me going. I just want to work and start moving forward. I want to help people.”

For Clarice, much of the destruction should have been avoided.

“I’m going to go on my soapbox for a minute,” she said. “When I was a kid, my parents owned a house on the Island for 40 years. It was flat, there were no jetties or dunes – nothing to block the water – and there was talk and talk about replenishing the dunes. That’s been made now especially clear. It should have been done before. Now whether the oceanfront homes want to sign the easements, now it shouldn’t be an option … Make the dunes that are the size that they should be to protect the people that are there and protect the community.”


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