In Sandy’s Wake: On the Ground Along the Jersey Shore

A report from three counties in the direct path of Sandy provides a taste of the devastation the storm wrought.

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Homes sit in ruin at the end of a bridge wrecked by flooding from Hurricane Sandy on October 31, 2012, in the town of Mantoloking in Ocean County, New Jersey.

Superstorm Sandy may have ended, but rescue efforts are far from over. Residents of three counties along the New Jersey coastline that experienced massive flooding have shared harrowing details about rescue efforts in their towns and on the state’s barrier islands.

(MORE: After Sandy, Scenes of Wreckage and Recovery)

Rich Peterson, the spokesperson for Ocean County, said that valuable resources have been taken up by the 500 or so people who chose not to evacuate the county’s two barrier islands — northern barrier island and Long Beach Island. It was the northern barrier island that was hit hardest and has been accessible only to dump trucks, front-loaders (typically used to lift heavy construction materials) and National Guard trucks. When one front-loader approached a house and cleared the sand away, two people emerged. “They jumped into the shovel of the front-end loader, and they were very gently taken over to a dump truck where they jumped out of the shovel and into the back of the dump truck,” Peterson said. “That’s how severe it’s been over there.”

Ocean County road department crews could not get to Long Beach Island to clean up sand and debris until Oct. 31. The day before, according to Peterson, three houses were literally “bobbing” in the water near the Mantoloking bridge. Police officers are patrolling by foot because there is no other way to get around. Inflatable Zodiac boats have also been used to reach the area. About 1,200 people are staying in emergency shelters that have principally been set up at schools on the mainland.

(MORE: Live Updates on the Superstorm’s Aftermath)

Even the residents who heeded evacuation instructions found it hard to get out of the path of danger. According to Atlantic County spokeswoman Linda Gilmore, one woman who was trying to leave the city of Absecon never made it out before wind and flood water swept her car off the roadway. In West Atlantic City, a houseboat washed up on Blake Horse Pike, one of the city’s main evacuation routes (picture here). Salt water has contaminated the water supply in Ventnor City, and a boil-water advisory is in effect in Atlantic City. Gilmore said the homes of many of the residents on the county’s barrier islands have been inundated by sand and dune grass. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection has been testing the sand, and if it is not contaminated, it can be put back on the beach — a small effort to remedy severe erosion.

Snow plows have been brought in to remove sand from the streets in Cape May County, according to the county’s spokeswoman Lenora Boninfante. During the height of the storm on Sunday, water was crossing the massive beach in Wildwood and cresting three feet over the boardwalk. There is extreme beach erosion as well: “When you visit the towns where there was beach before, there may not be beach,” Boninfante said. At one point there were four feet of water in the streets in the downtown area of Ocean City, but Boninfante said that most of the flooding has subsided. However two bridges, Townsends Inlet Bridge and the Ocean City Longport bridge, are closed because of damage to adjacent roads. In the borough of Avalon, the portion of the road that leads up to the Townsends Inlet bridge was “totally lifted and washed away.”

Superstorm Sandy would have been even more devastating if it had occurred during the height of the tourism season. “Thankfully,” said Boninfante, “this did not occur in the summer when we can have upwards of 800,000 people here.”

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