Sandy - A Reckoning

Steps Toward ‘Normalcy’

The Beachcomber
By NEAL J. ROBERTS | Jul 21, 2013
Photo by: Ryan Morrill WE WILL RECOVER: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks with public officials, first responders and the media at the High Point Volunteer Fire Co. station on Nov. 7, 2012.

The Superstorm Sandy disaster and recovery on Long Beach Island, as chronicled for seven months by the staff of The SandPaper. Part 4.

 

On Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, Ship Bottom Borough Hall was employed as the central polling place for locals who had not left the Island. Paper ballots, sorted by municipality, were provided for the mixed assembly of voters from six towns. The same ballots were available at the two Southern Regional schools in Manahawkin for displaced Island residents temporarily staying on the mainland. All things considered, local voter turnout was brisk for a presidential election year.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie arrived on Long Beach Island the next day. While addressing the immediate local concern about when property owners would be allowed back on LBI – an approaching new storm, Nor’easter Athena, was the latest obstacle – the mid-day press conference in Harvey Cedars was also an occasion to reference the re-election of President Obama. In the summer, Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention. Yet immediately after Superstorm Sandy, it was Democrat Obama – not GOP candidate Mitt Romney – whom Christie was praising in front of national news cameras when the president­ arrived in New Jersey to promise fast-track disaster relief. Answering a question from a SandPaper reporter, Christie insisted that his record of cooperation with Democrats at the state level is why his administration has made progress in New Jersey government. “What I think my [post-Sandy] work with President Obama was symbolic of is the leadership I’ve brought to Trenton over the last three years,” he told a packed audience of reporters and local officials at the High Point Volunteer Fire Co. station.

The governor stressed that disaster recovery throughout New Jersey would take time; at nine days since Sandy, there were still 369,000 customers without electricity (down from a peak outage of nearly 2.8 million). A multi-state army of more than 11,000 linemen and gas line repairmen was clawing at that mountain of work. Meanwhile, the Nor’easter Athena forecast had prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to order an emergency sand delivery to reinforce the eroded engineered beaches in Surf City and Harvey Cedars. Some 30,000 tons arrived in a 24-hour operation ending Nov. 7, soon after the governor’s visit. Providentially, Athena left her mark that night not in renewed flooding but with an unseasonable, heavy snowfall – nearly a foot deep in Toms River and points north.

Regarding the anxiously awaited reopening of the Island, Christie had said it appeared allowable in coming days. He also remarked that the Monday, Nov. 5 “grab and go” temporary opening of the Causeway barricade did not go as well as it should have: “We shouldn’t have people sitting in traffic all the way out to the Garden State Parkway. So we’re going to have to figure out a more orderly way to do it,” he said. “I’m all ears for creative ideas to get that done the right way.”

Property owners in North Beach and Holgate were later given their own “grab and go” 8-hour window on Friday, Nov. 9. Atlantic Electric temporarily shut off power south of Susan Lane to allow safe access to compromised Holgate properties.

The next day, Saturday, all LBI property owners north of Holgate with their ID placards were allowed to return beginning at 6 a.m. Meanwhile, New Jersey Natural Gas began re-pressurizing the gas main to the Island beginning Sunday, Nov. 11 in Ship Bottom and Surf City.

On the Boulevard in Beach Haven Terrace, California Grill had completed flood damage restoration and was among the first of LBI’s stricken businesses to reopen. It was mobbed by weekend customers who had scarce choices for a place to eat. Owner Steve DiPietro soon resolved to get a temporary enclosure for his summer patio dining area. “He immediately understood an important need, and that need was to feed those who are here to help rebuild LBI,” said his contractor, Giglio Awnings owner Dave Voris.

* * *

John J. Ryan, writing to The SandPaper, raised some ire this week with his opinion about beach replenishment: “The idea that pumping a wall of sand onto our barrier islands is a sustainable, cost-effective method of preventing the catastrophe that we’re enduring has been fully debunked by the facts,” said the resident of nearby Bass River Township (New Gretna) and a friend of the Surfrider Foundation, which in recent years had sharply criticized the way the Army Corps of Engineers project in Surf City had altered the natural contour of the local beachfront. “When the first round of replenishment came to Long Beach Island and people saw, close-up, how destructive, dangerous, ineffective, temporary and expensive it was, and woke up and started complaining, they were resoundingly criticized for being silent for too many years while the plans were being developed.” Now, Ryan insisted, it’s time to rethink coastal engineering “from scratch.”

“The writer is delusional or has some other agenda,” answered Ray Partyka of Spray Beach. “The dunes clearly played a significant role in protecting the Island, not just beachfront homes or a tiny minority of people, but the entire Island.”

And John M. Imperiale of Harvey Cedars: “Some people will stick to their opinion no matter what, come hell or high water. [Ryan’s] argument would be akin to saying that a bullet-proof vest is useless because if you get shot, your bullet-proof vest gets dented and will have to be fixed.” Imperiale asked beach replenishment naysayers to just be quiet. “Let the rest of us recover for a time before having to listen to absurd positions again.”

* * *

On Monday, Nov. 12 normal public access was finally permitted to the entire Island, but again excluding Holgate.

One substantial step toward normalcy took place as the Long Beach Island Consolidated District reopened the Ethel Jacobsen School in Surf City. It was twice as crowded, though; students from the flood-damaged Long Beach Island Grade School in Ship Bottom were consolidated with the Surf City school enrollment. That scenario was to continue indefinitely – a precursor to what the local school board since 2011 has intended to do anyway if it can find a buyer for the Ship Bottom school site. Six months later, the school board announced the LBI Grade School will reopen but repairs might take until March 2014.

Getting students back in school was also another means to meet needs of hurting LBI families. The state instructed the district to provide daily breakfast and lunch free of cost, and the local district decided to add free daily snacks. The Red Cross distributed space heaters, delivered by New Jersey Natural Gas, for families in need, and the closed Ship Bottom school became a distribution center for donated necessities including clothes, personal hygiene products, housewares, pillows and bedding, and even pet supplies. At the end of the week, the morale of LBI students got a big boost when a bus carrying the principal and some students from the Montgomery Middle School, Somerset County, arrived with gifts of new backpacks – each containing a note of encouragement from the student sender.

Beach Haven students were displaced farther, all the way to the Eagleswood Township Elementary School in West Creek. Monday was the start of registration paperwork for the complicated, inter-district consolidation. Beach Haven’s 62 students and 20 teachers would arrive in their new classrooms on Wednesday. Two weeks earlier, kindergarten teacher Stephanie DiBiase had traveled to the Beach Haven school to retrieve three boxes of undamaged storybooks from her classroom. When she reunited those books with her young pupils on Nov. 15, they were thrilled. “They swarmed the books!” DiBiase related. Based on the expected work in the 100-year-old Beach Haven Elementary School – estimated to cost at least $1.5 million, said Superintendent Patricia Daggy –  it was resolved that Eagleswood would be “the foster home” for Beach Haven the rest of the school year. Four modular trailers were later set up to supply the needed temporary space.

Also on Nov. 12, Grace Calvary Church, 19th Street in Ship Bottom, began service as an official relief center, as requested by town officials. “The relief center will be providing hot lunches Monday through Saturday,” said the Rev. Dan Stott, noting the invitation was open to anyone who was hungry. “For whatever reason, our building was spared. And now we’re going to put it to good use to serve our community.” That outreach extended beyond just food and a warm building. One week after Sandy, Stott came upon a mother and daughter in town “who lost everything. I prayed with them, trying to encourage them… Over at the [Ship Bottom] firehouse the other day, I prayed with the firefighters. They’re exhausted. And there are men in the firehouse who have lost their homes.” Stott found a large sign board and spray-painted the words “Hope” and “LBI,” to coincide with the church steeple’s sounding chimes intended to lift the spirits of crestfallen victims of Sandy.

Nancy James of Long Beach Township later added her praise: “Eight hundred for dinner seems not to pose a problem for Grace Calvary Church in Ship Bottom,” she said of the site from which Red Cross and Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief volunteers were operating. “From all over the country, they have come with a singular purpose – to help rebuild our beautiful Island and strengthen the hearts and souls of its people,” she wrote to The SandPaper. “I know from what I have seen and heard, there is enormous gratitude, pride and admiration for our officials and for the thousands of caring volunteers.”

Among the thousands of generous people outside Ocean County who wanted to help, a small fishing town in South Carolina was gearing up to return an old favor. McClellanville, two miles inland from the coastline north of Charleston, was in the path of a 17-foot storm surge Hurricane Hugo swept far inland on Sept. 22, 1989. Eight days later, a 30-truck Hurricane Hugo Relief convoy – including a dozen tractor trailers – delivered an overwhelming quantity of donations from Ocean County residents and businesses, plus three old but functional fire trucks from the Barnegat and Stafford fire companies. Dale Brocklebank was a Stafford Township volunteer fireman who made that trip. “After Hurricane Sandy hit us, it reminded me very much of Hugo … now it is our turn to be at ground zero since people here are experiencing a little of what people went through in South Carolina.” Mary Duke, McClellanville town administrator, said when she and other town officials learned of Ocean County’s plight, they promptly decided to respond. “So far we’ve raised about $5,000. I know it’s not a lot of money, but we had to do something to help them, when you think of what all they did to help us.”

* * *

Tuesday, Nov. 13 found the St. Francis Family Support Services staff at work packing 235 Thanksgiving dinner baskets in Manahawkin. They were on the mainland because the St. Francis Center in Brant Beach was still undergoing flood damage restoration, and the St. Francis Food Pantry had been relocated to the Ocean County Southern Service Center (in the former St. Mary’s Parish Center on Route 9). “We also had two truckloads of food delivered by the Mount Laurel Fire Department,” remarked Family Services director Lori Tomaro. Just then, D’na and Austin Schwezel arrived with a carload of donations from Beach Haven Terrace United Methodist Church, also closed for flood repairs. “We can’t worship at our church but we can buy food,” said D’na.

Meanwhile, across town at the new St. Mary’s Parish Center on McKinley Avenue, the Red Cross was appealing to the public for spare living space that could be offered to displaced storm victims. St. Mary’s began sheltering about 145 people on Nov. 8 when evacuation shelters at Pinelands Regional and Southern Regional were closed to allow the buildings to reopen for students. “Many have also lost their jobs as well as their home – and please call me if there are jobs available,” said Red Cross volunteer Linda Ross from Florida. As long as housing remained a serious issue for the evacuees, including many senior citizens, the shelter would remain. “We have no closing date,” said Red Cross volunteer Paige Shaw from Nevada, who deployed to New Jersey on Sandy Eve, Oct. 28. FEMA had staff at St. Mary’s to assist the evacuees. Members of St. Mary’s congregation were also pitching in, acquiring necessities for those displaced and even helping by washing their laundry.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, the Long Beach Island Joint Emergency Management Center terminated its boil water advisory for LBI residents living in North Beach Haven and points north. The advisory remained in effect for Beach Haven and Holgate.

“We’re going to get Long Beach Island back,” Bob Muroff, owner of LBI Trailer Park in Holgate, had said a day earlier at a Long Beach Township Commission meeting. “It’s going to be a process,” added Eileen Bowker of Bowker’s South Beach Grill in Holgate. “In the long run, we’re all going to be OK.”

Next Week: Community Thanksgiving.

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