I spent the day last Friday re-tracing my steps in New Jersey where I was during Sandy last October. It is always an odd feeling to come back to an area that I feel like I have so much invested in emotionally. I knew no one when I arrived early in the morning of October 29, 2012. Now, I have new friends; connections made because of Sandy.
I re-visited the Long Branch and Belmar areas first since it was these two areas that I spent the most time in as Sandy’s effects turned the region in to a disaster area in less than a day. Then, I ventured south to Seaside Heights where it looks as if time has been put in to slow-motion mode. I’ll elaborate on that more later.
My day actually began in New Brunswick where I ended up the night of October 29 after Sandy finally came ashore in southern New Jersey. I was amazed at the amount of tree damage still evident though most of the obvious scars have been removed for the most part. It’s easy to see where there were power failures as brand new power poles, complete with shiny new transformers, pepper the landscape. Ah how I remember watching the grid go down as each brilliant flash of light set the sky ablaze with an eerie blue-white-green hue; a sure sign that more people were just plunged in to darkness.
I traveled along the Raritan River which surged out of its banks, flooding homes and leaving roadways impassable that night. I should know, I had to deal with that in trying to get to my hotel. Had I not been there to see it in person, I may not have believed that storm surge from Sandy had penetrated that far inland – but I was and it did. To me, it still seemed like a wild, fever-induced dream. Being back on this incredible spring day with so much growth and green foliage around me was surreal. It’s like Sandy was already a long lost memory on the landscape.
My next destination was Long Branch. It was here that I set up a remote cam unit- now we call them “Surge Cams”. The boardwalk was intact again though sand and debris was still easy to spot; a telltale calling card of a significant surge event. All around me was the sound of construction. Whether it was bulldozers on the beach or renovation crews trying to bring homes and businesses back to as close as they could to pre-Sandy conditions, the area was alive with rebuilding and moving on.
Not far north of the cam unit location lies the Monmouth Beach Club. This is where I set up the weather station (see the screen shot from our app which captured the last image from the web cam attached to the weather station). Here too was a flurry of activity as construction crews worked like bees in a hive to get things ready for the summer season which was quickly approaching.
It’s the tourist dollars of the summer months that really drives the economic engine down along the coast. It’s no different than say, Orange Beach, AL or Pensacola Beach, FL or Wrightsville Beach, NC. The beach brings the people and with them comes the dollars. There was a sense of urgency in the air as the sand was slipping through the hour glass, about to usher in a new season along the Jersey Shore.
Next up was Belmar. This is where I had one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had in a hurricane event. I met several people here who relied on me for up to the minute information during the height of Sandy’s onslaught that night. It was by total coincidence that this happened. I was in the right place at the right time and it really helped them to understand what was about to happen, especially with the incoming surge. For my part, the boro saw to it that I met New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie the day after. It was an incredible honor and one that I will not soon forget.
So here I was a little more than six months later. I met up with Belmar police captain Drew Huisman who gave me a tour of the small but diverse city. The recovery efforts are nothing short of remarkable. He told me back in December that they wanted the boardwalk open by Memorial Day. It will open this Wednesday and is a marvel to see in person. Belmar did not wait for aid to come to them. Instead, the leadership stepped up, the people worked together and made it happen. The results are stunning. The city is alive and bustling with so much activity as people come back to the coast that Capt Huisman will need more than two dozen new recruits soon to keep up. Sure there is a long way to go but from the marina along the Shark River to the waterfront bordering the Atlantic, Belmar is back on its feet with an awesome new boardwalk and businesses ready for the summer crowds. It is my opinion that Belmar serves as an example of working together as quickly as possible to make positive things happen. It is a monumental task to come back from an event like Sandy. Ask anyone in Waveland or Bay St. Louis or New Orleans about that. The more people can come together and work together, the less painful the recovery process can be. Want proof? Visit Belmar this year…you’ll see first hand.
Sadly, the trip south was somewhat depressing. It’s like time had stopped in the days after October 29th, 2012. In areas such as Mantoloking, Bay Head and Seaside Heights, the toll of Sandy’s relentless storm surge and pounding waves was still evident more often than not. The washed out shells of homes still lay pretty much where they settled after Sandy slammed ashore last October. It’s not that people aren’t trying, this as an overwhelming disaster that people simply could not prepare for- not on this scale. Each municipality is different with each having their own set of challenges that have been waiting ever since that fateful day.
I was also pleased to see my friend Kathleen Koch, former CNN correspondent and author of Rising from Katrina, was working with mayors and other political figures from Mississippi in conjunction with mayors from various New Jersey towns who are all going through similar situations – just eight years apart. Her idea is to get people together who have been through disasters such as Katrina and Sandy to allow them to help one another avoid pitfalls and endure the relentless stress that the aftermath leaves. This is a great idea and I can only hope it takes off and spreads beyond the hurricane zones as there is much potential from learning from others.
Everyone I have met had a positive, can-do work ethic; knowing that the only way to full recovery is to focus on the future and not dwell on the misery that Sandy left behind. In that regard, the coast will be re-built stronger and thus a new and improved Jersey Shore will rise from the sucker punch that Sandy delivered to the region.
I am proud of what I saw, I really am. People have come together and have done what needs to be done.
Here is a video clip that I shot last Friday from Belmar, NJ:
Next up: NOAA’s Hurricane Season Outlook later this week.