With Hurricane Sandy barreling up the East Coast, Marie and I eagerly awaited word that Lauren and Brian had left Rehoboth and would be home in advance of the storm’s predicted late Sunday evening arrival to the Delaware Valley. The kids had been at the Delaware beaches enjoying the annual Sea Witch Festival, while Brian’s parents readied their summer home for the impending superstorm.
It seemed like it was only yesterday when New Jersey residents had heard the news of Hurricane Irene’s forecasted arrival to our region. How and when did our beloved state become the new “stop” on the tropical season hurricane belt tour? Fast-forward 14 months and we found ourselves once again hastily making preparations for another “Perfect Storm.”
With a sense of purpose, I gassed up our automobiles and stowed the patio furniture. When I had finished, Marie went shopping for some staples. Upon her return home, she proceeded to cook and store multiple meals in Tupperware containers, while I stocked the pantry with bottled water, canned goods and snacks. Our eyes and ears were glued to the local TV news stations providing up-to-the-minute “on-location” coverage of the storm developments, using various computer models intended to forecast the possible paths Sandy could take over the next 24 to 48 hours. We watched in disbelief as the colorful maps tracked the storm’s progress, slowly creeping up the East Coast state-by-state. The residents of the Delaware Valley and the Jersey Shore held our collective breath and waited. When and where would Sandy make landfall?
It was about this time chatter on social media started to spike. Photos started to appear of pre-storm conditions rocking the Shore towns along the New Jersey coastline. Lauren and Brian sent us a photo of 12-foot waves crashing on the Delaware beaches. More photos appeared, taken by Cape May residents at Exit 0, showing water starting to escape the dunes and flood the streets.
The storm was indeed closing in. About this time, our lights flickered briefly, but within a few minutes thankfully came back on. Within a half-hour, we lost cable, which meant we had no Internet. Our big-screen TV went dark. We had lost contact with the outside world. Almost instantly, we all reached for our smartphones and wall chargers. As nightfall approached, we nervously watched the large trees in our wooded backyard swaying freely in the wind.
Messages started to flood Facebook. Friends and friends of friends were reporting power outages, downed trees, lines at supermarkets and road closings around the region. Loved ones were sending and leaving messages for each other: “I’m okay so far.” “We’re watching movies with the kids.” “I just lost power.” “We’re gathered with the kids and pets, just waiting.” “How is your house in Ocean City?” “Does anyone know if Wildwood is okay?”
Around early evening, disturbing images started to surface on our phones, showing sections of the historic Atlantic City boardwalk destroyed with wooden pilings and planks missing and washed out to sea. Another photo showed the rollercoaster ride at the Seaside Heights Fun Pier sitting in the Atlantic Ocean. Homes in Long Beach Island were swallowed up by the raging waters, while other homes were covered in sand. Store facades were ripped off and exposed to the elements. Cars were engulfed with ocean water, while boats were tossed from their trailers and found lying in the middle of the street. Farther north, New York and New England were making last-minute preparations for the storm.
More text messages kept coming. These messages were varied in tone; some were thankful, others worried, still others hopeful. People were held captive in their homes, trying in vain to broadcast their innermost feelings to the world outside their immediate four walls. “Ocean Ave is totally flooded.” “No power, kids are driving me crazy.” “Does anyone know if schools are closed for Tuesday?" “My office is closed for tomorrow.” “The Seaside Heights boardwalk was destroyed.” “I heard the Parkway is closed.” “Praying this ends soon.” “LBI looks like a disaster area.” “Wonder when we can go down and check on our shore properties?”
It was only 24 days ago, Marie and I spent a gorgeous 80-degree fall day skipping work on a Friday to head down the shore. We packed up our car with our dog Macey and arrived at LBI. That day, we were treated to an amazing beach day, glorious sunset and a relaxing dinner on the back bay. Marie and I talked about the fun weekends we shared as a family this past summer in Brigantine, enjoying Lauren and her friends’ company.
On Facebook, many people recalled and recounted similar summer experiences
spent at the Jersey Shore. Other folks posted photos of their favorite shore hangouts and recent fun times with family members. More denial, disbelief, anger and nostalgia soon followed. We all hoped and prayed whatever beach town we’ve called “home” during our lifetime, it would somehow be spared the raging destruction we were seeing in photos of other neighboring beach towns.
As citizens of the United States, we always feel a strong allegiance to the residents of other states when storms occur in those parts of the country. Maybe we once vacationed there, or maybe we have friends and family who live close by. We feel empathy, but also a slight sense of relief. We think to ourselves: Thankfully, it didn't occur where we live. But this time was different. This time it was in our backyard. This time it was personal!
More heartbreaking images started to appear. People’s businesses and homes destroyed. In some cases, these small businesses were local institutions in the seashore towns they serviced. Many of these houses had been passed down from previous generations, while familiar landmarks ravaged by Sandy looked nothing like the iconic images from summers past. Many folks had saved up money for years to purchase/build these homes. Local storeowners risked everything to open up their businesses in these communities. Because storms never act with compassion or fairness, thousands of people’s dreams and lives were forever changed over the course of 24 hours.
Weeks later, many of us still feel a wide range of emotions about the recent hurricane and the effects it's had on the Garden State, specifically the Jersey Shore. Regardless of what specific beach town you called home or visited each summer, these beach communities have become a part of all of us, the fabric of our lives, holding generations of fond memories at these places of escape where the surf meets the sand.
For many of us who came of age "down the Shore," it was a dark day we'll sadly never forget.