In August 2005, on a dark and stormy Thursday night, I was holed up in a Fort Lauderdale hotel along the intercoastal waterway, getting ready to leave the next morning to head home after a three-day Army information technology conference.
Hurricane Katrina was on its way to Florida that night. The power to my hotel was out as the winds picked up around 8PM that evening. The sound of the wind was so powerful that it kept me awake practically the entire night. Palm trees in front of the hotel that stood upright under normal conditions were bent back at 45 degree angles. Exhausted from lack of sleep and the worry of what the area would look like in the morning, I just collapsed on my bed, praying I’d get some rest despite all the action going on outside.
The next morning, I checked out of my hotel, got in my rental car, and headed to Dania Beach to check on my parents’ house off of Stirling Road. Route 1 running alongside the airport looked like a war zone, with palm trees strewn across the highway and no traffic lights. Luckily, the only apparent damage to their place was the car cover, which was torn to pieces. No missing siding, no uprooted trees, the car port still intact.
But as I traveled further into my parents’ development, the scenes of devastation were much worse. About a block from my parents’ place, the roofs on two houses got completely blown off. I stopped in the parking lot of a local food store and called my parents to let them know what had happened, then proceeded back to the airport to drop my car off and hop on the first available flight home.
I had already experienced several nor’easters back in New Jersey, but Katrina was a lot worse. I always thought that living through that hurricane down in Florida would be the worst piece of weather that I could ever experience, something I might be able to tell my grandchildren about – that is, until post-tropical cyclone Sandy showed up.
Not even close.
Here in Long Branch and throughout the state, the destruction and devastation caused by Sandy was incredible. The entire boardwalk from Melrose Terrace down to Brighton Avenue is no more. Trees along the city fell into the streets and on houses, cutting off power to practically everyone in the city.
The power at our house went out Monday night around 7:30PM. With the wind howling just as it did in Florida seven years ago, it was a rough night for all of us in our house.
I woke up Tuesday morning and walked outside to see what had happened. Luckily, no damage to the house or cars – just a lot of branches down from the neighbors' trees, a little water in the basement, and no power (for what would be one week).
Compared to a lot of people, I got off easy. Even today, power hasn’t been restored to everyone, and it’s now going into the third week since Sandy hit the Jersey Shore.
The desolation was so bad that it has been described by some FEMA workers in the area as being worse than anything they had seen in New Orleans, when Katrina passed the area as a Category 5 hurricane.
I got to talking to some people in and around town as soon as the opportunity became available. One of the first things that hit me was that PEOPLE LISTENED and evacuated when they were told to. Only five deaths were reported in the area – 4 in Ocean County, and 1 in Monmouth County.
The level of cooperation and the amount of work done to get things back to some sense of normalcy was unprecedented. Almost immediately, the city administration met with school district officials to figure out a way to get the schools powered up to use as shelters, then more power to get the schools operating again and minimize the amount of lost time for the students. At the same time, work began to get power back to Monmouth Medical Center – a priority in case of any casualties.
Monmouth University’s Multipurpose Athletic Center (MAC) was used as a shelter for area residents – maintained by the NJ National Guard. As it became apparent that the shelters wouldn’t be able to handle all of the area’s displaced residents, a movement was started to open up the housing at closed-down Fort Monmouth. Between 400 to 600 families will be moved there within a few days.
States from as far away as California responded with their power company’s technicians to supplement the JCP&L workforce and begin the arduous task of getting power back to every home.
Within hours of Sandy ending, all the social media outlets were buzzing along with what to do to help out. Many groups of people from all walks of life got involved and set out to help all those affected. The West End Fire Company and Long Branch Fire Headquarters were used as drop-off points for clothes and non-perishable food. The Long Branch Elks received huge amount of clothes, toys, and furniture. What they can’t get rid of will go to the Salvation Army.
The Greater Long Branch Chamber of Commerce has been announcing business re-openings via e-mail. Monmouth Park Race Track opened up its parking lots as a major staging area for JCP&L, as well as a FEMA sub-station and temporary tent city for displaced residents.
These are just a small sampling of what the community-based and public service organizations did just around Long Branch. There were many more, too numerous to mention. Everyone who was affected by Sandy was being taken care of by a multitude of people, both from within and outside the Long Branch community. Even a hug or offering words of encouragement to those people directly affected – it was something. The level of cooperation and participation to get Long Branch and the surrounding areas up and running was heartening to see.
It will take months, maybe even a year or two before the new normal sets in, but in the end, it will be the resiliency of all New Jersey residents working together that will have gotten each and every one of us through one of the worst episodes of weather we will probably experience in our lifetime.
“Jersey Tough” seems so appropriate here – don’t you think?
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri's blog on his Facebook page, "Jersey Shore Retro" as well as on Twitter @jsretro).