Sandy - A Reckoning

Of Things Once Known

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Jul 13, 2013
Photo by: Travis Cain The Fifth Street Pavilion, a favorite landmark in Beach Haven, stands firm during the daylight hours of Oct. 29, 2012 while Sandy ripped apart the street-end boardwalk. By next morning, there was nothing left.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 3.

 

While hundreds of year-round Islanders coped with essential life issues of shelter, heat, electric power, food and water, the U.S. Postal Service got to work restoring disrupted mail service. LBI Postmaster Brian Sheeran and his staff labored to relocate their operation to Tuckerton by Nov. 2. It was the nearest mainland facility with enough room to hold mail for displaced LBI residents until they could come retrieve it. (The closer Manahawkin post office had its own emergency, unable to deliver mail to 4,000 flooded homes in Stafford Township.) “It’s extremely important, and we’ve made a strong, concerted effort to get this task completed,” Sheeran said. “This is a challenge that personally I’m excited to do because I see a lot of people that have been helping strangers, and I feel a strong obligation to get this done and be a part of that.” The Tuckerton operation was moved back to the Island’s main post office in Brant Beach on Nov. 15, with home delivery to most of the Island resumed the next day.

Before Sandy hit, many evacuating Island residents were forced to leave their pets behind. Two days later, on Wednesday, Oct. 31, a pet rescue had begun with Long Beach Township police or National Guard escort into locations otherwise closed to the public. “We rescued lots of cats and dogs, and even some turtles, snakes, ferrets and a few hermit crabs,” said Kelly Karch of the Stafford Township Animal Control service. “Anything anyone considered a pet, something they loved or were attached to, we helped find.” With assistance from Associated Humane Societies staff at Popcorn Park Zoo (Forked River), more than 80 pets were retrieved within the first week and taken to the Southern Ocean County Animal Shelter to await reunion with owners.

In Ship Bottom and elsewhere on LBI, American Red Cross volunteers manned three mobile units dispensing warm sandwiches, hot drinks and basic cleanup needs such as work gloves, facemasks and trash bags. “Everybody needs something different right now,” said Don Hrdina of Minnesota, one of about 1,000 volunteers nationwide who deployed to the East Coast on the Sandy relief mission. “Some people just need to talk, and others just like knowing we’re there if they need.”

Relief also came by air. Beginning Sunday, Nov. 4 and through the next week, 25 plane loads of donated supplies arrived in West Creek after Eagles Nest Airport owner Peter Weidhorn sent out a public appeal. A week later, he estimated the operation had moved 12,000 pounds of supplies from his airport to donation centers in Manahawkin and the Pinelands Regional Junior High School in Little Egg Harbor.

Business owners were allowed into Beach Haven on Sunday to recover what was salvageable, and to start ripping out the rest. At Bay Village, which contains 17 shops and small restaurants downtown, everyone sustained 4½ feet of floodwater, according to John Bell Maschal, whose parents, John and Maribel, opened their Country Kettle Fudge business in Beach Haven in 1960 and later built Bay Village. “We’re going to rebuild,” Maschal vowed. But meanwhile, plans had to be made for the Maschal’s fudge shop in Newport, Rhode Island to help fill pending mail orders for fudge. “We have a lot of Christmas orders this time of year, and the online orders are still coming in.”

Farther downtown, floodwater 3 feet deep had sloshed inside The Chicken Or the Egg on Bay Avenue, leaving tables, chairs and an assortment of other items topsy-turvy. “It’s so sad for my family. This is everything we worked for,” said Torr Cohen, at cleanup work inside the popular 24-hour restaurant.

Nearby on Bay Avenue, Patrick Barbera said he lost “pretty much everything” in his Olde Tyme Cigars & Tobacco Smoke Shop, where he had stayed during the storm until the floodwater inside matched the level in the street – and then he pushed the door open to wade to his house on Third Street, where the first floor there was also being ruined that hour. Yet on this first Sunday after Sandy, he was far from despairing. That morning, he and fellow Islanders had attended an inspiring church service from which “everyone came out fired up,” ready to tackle the enormous work ahead. “The energy flow here is just unbelievable,” he said.

By the close of the first post-Sandy weekend, an advance announcement to local media and to the Nixle.com alert service said the Causeway barricade would open temporarily on Monday, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., to allow property owners a “grab and go” spot assessment of their damage. North Beach and Holgate were the lone exceptions, still closed and deemed dangerous.

* * *

Anxious homeowners by the thousands began arriving at the barricade before dawn on Nov. 5; the line of traffic soon made eastbound Route 72 a parking lot of waiting cars, four miles long, while the police checkpoint stopped each motorist to show their proof of property ownership ID.

On this Monday, Joe Rulli was working on the mess inside Joey’s Pizza and Pasta, his Beach Haven Crest restaurant locally famous for its “occasional waterfront dining” right on Long Beach Boulevard – which isn’t on the waterfront. For years, Rulli’s outside sign has made light of the notoriously poor street drainage that leaves his business surrounded by huge puddles after every heavy rainstorm. In the December 1992 nor’easter, there were 3 feet of floodwater inside, which was bad enough – but only half as bad as Sandy brought. “The water was up to my eyeballs, my eyebrows actually, and I’m almost six feet tall,” he said, describing the water line visible when he returned. “This is a tough one.” But although finding nearly all his restaurant equipment ruined, he had spent his recent energy at his Manahawkin restaurant preparing daily meals to deliver to National Guard troops at the Long Beach Township municipal complex. Rulli was optimistic his two LBI restaurants – the other one flooded in Ship Bottom – would get back in business before Memorial Day 2013. (And they were.)

While the Island remained closed to the general public, news of the flood stirred some of our readers to reawaken wistful memories of some iconic symbols of LBI, now lost. Immediately noticed was loss of the “Causeway Shack,” the rustic landmark oft photographed, or depicted in framed watercolors, or editorialized by those who fretted they would someday mourn its demise. With Sandy, that someday came in the middle of the night, with no one to witness, leaving the Tuesday dawn to reveal only stumps of the skinny pilings that had anchored the old clammer’s lodge on the Cedar Bonnet Island marsh for most of a century. “It’s appropriate it went down in the storm of the century,” remarked Jim Yuhas of Barnegat Township, one of three people who reinforced it with hammer and nails on Oct. 27 and 28, believing they secured it enough. At savetheshack.com, there was a spike in interest in a 2012 amateur documentary about the landmark. Ben Wurst of New Gretna went on the marsh to collect pieces of yellow pine that had distinct characteristics of the shack, “so that it wasn’t thrown out and treated like trash.” Then he began fashioning them into New Jersey map-shaped pieces that drew immediate interest on his website, reclaimednj.com. He pledged 30 percent of the sales to Tuckerton Seaport and the local Habitat for Humanity.

Melissa Modica, living on the mainland in Waretown, recalled how LBI was once central to her life during her late teens and early 20s. On a Sunday in early October, she set out alone on a whim to revisit the Island for the first time in a long while. “I drove past Fantasy Island, past my old high school sweetheart’s house, past the beaches I used to badge check, then to the B&B in Ship Bottom [where she had worked several years], on past my first apartment and lastly I ended up on the beach,” she wrote for The SandPaper Nov. 3 Special Edition. “Looking back, it was a bittersweet feeling. Was this LBI’s way of saying good-bye to me?” She professed confidence, however, that she and the beach, on a rebuilt LBI, would meet again some day.

When Lewisburg, Pa. resident Steven A. Jones could finally return to LBI to witness what had become of his vacation community, he typed a heartfelt epitaph mourning the loss of Beach Haven’s landmark beach pavilion at Fifth Street, the street where, after the March Storm of ’62, his grandfather established the family’s first LBI vacation home. Also swept away on Oct. 29 was LBI’s only other beachfront pavilion, the one at Pearl Street.

“There are, excuse me were, only two on the entire Island, so we always felt our street was special, different from other streets that had an entrance to the beach. Much more than a wooden structure, it held many treasured memories for my family, now fourth generation, and others who have lived here,” Jones wrote. “The pavilion was our outdoor community center where we would talk over the events of the day with friends, neighbors and visitors, the beautiful ocean serving as a back-drop… One of the most poignant reasons for my love of the pavilion is the vivid memory of my mom, Tamea Jones, painstakingly planting dune grass and yucca plants in the sand dunes that border either side of the entrance to the pavilion. She realized that the roots of those little plants are what helped to solidify the dunes and perform their most valuable job – to function as a first line of defense against storms. They did their job well during Sandy’s onslaught! And you, my friend, were a silent sentinel to Sandy’s fury!  You stood your post till the very end! We thank you deeply and will miss you greatly!

“I pray that the pavilion will be rebuilt, not only for the sake of Fifth Street residents but for all those who frequent Beach Haven.” Three months later, borough council resolved to build new pavilions at Fifth Street and Pearl Street in time for summer 2013.

* * *

Sandy had moved dunes of sand into the streets. Afterward, people made dunes of “Sandovered” belongings and gutted pieces of their homes they piled into the streets. The magnitude of loss was, to say again, “incomprehensible.” Jay Mann spoke with seasonal homeowners arriving on his street in Ship Bottom: “Bay flooding had ruined all their homes. I couldn’t help but notice that most were taking it in stride – somewhat. I honestly think the initial relief of finding their homes still standing temporarily anesthetized them to the amount of damage they were seeing – or the replacement value of what they were dragging out to the curb. It’ll slowly sink in. It did with me.”

Later on that issue, Jon Coen had a pertinent question: “To start with, why are we throwing everything away?” he asked in his Nov. 14 SandPaper surfing column. “Of course we have to discard the old flooring and furniture that got destroyed. But at a time when hauling crews are overwhelmed, why are we throwing out coolers, resin chairs, beach toys and picnic tables? Bodyboards? Really? Bodyboards sustained water damage?!”

“Storms are undiscerning, visionless; they’re dumb and dead as brick…” began a commentary piece in The SandPaper by Chris Kapica of Brant Beach. “…We look at our neighbors and gauge their level of misery as they toss waterlogged possessions to the curb. Hopefully, our better nature supercedes the melancholy and we remember: This, too, shall pass… Great things lie waiting, and we are reminded: Waves do break, but the surf still shines under moonlight.”

Next Week: Steps Toward ‘Normalcy’

 

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