The bed is still made. A wicker shelf stands in the corner of the room, its shelves covered with untouched knickknacks, shore memories. A framed print of a lighthouse and white-capped waves hangs on the wall, just a tad askew. The bedroom’s French doors open to the brisk air and an ocean view previously obstructed by the other half of the house that’s no longer there.
The devastation unleashed on the New Jersey shore a month ago by Hurricane Sandy has been captured in countless images and videos, spread throughout the world through news reports and social media, but it’s access, being able to see it first hand, the burned out husks of an entire block of summer cottages, the toppled boardwalk, the homes torn away from their foundations and flushed out to sea, that makes it real.
“You know that old adage, the one where they say to see is to believe,” State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-16, asked, looking up at a Seaside Heights home cut in half by surging flood waters. “Well, I see it, but I still can’t believe it.”
On Thursday, more than 30 members of the State’s General Assembly participated in a bus tour of Sandy-ravaged shore towns. Organized by local officials and led by State Police Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes, the first-hand look provided state officials with opportunity to see the damage and truly understand the long road to recovery that remains for the Jersey Shore.
Assembly members from districts as north as Essex County, south to Camden County, and areas in between, arrived in Seaside Heights and walked along decimated Casino Pier, watching their step over warped and splintered boards as they arrived at the site of one of Sandy’s most iconic images: a roller coaster collapsed into the ocean. The approximately four-hour tour of the barrier island included stops in neighborhoods like Ortley Beach and Mantoloking where damage is, in many instances, total.
With Gov. Chris Christie estimating the cost of damage incurred by Hurricane Sandy at nearly $37 billion, there’s a need for local officials to demonstrate need, assert themselves and represent their still-struggling constituents. The best way to inform, they decided, was to allow their peers to see it first hand.
“I think seeing it in person is a heck of a lot better than seeing it in pictures,” Assemblyman Greg McGuckin, R-10, said. “There are ideas floating around (the legislature) and we’re trying to get them categorized. One of the things we need to do is give people the tools so they can begin to rebuild and get government out of the way as much as possible.”
Also in attendance was Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. She said the state has taken an active role in helping restore New Jersey’s Sandy-affected residents. When it comes to delivering aid and providing support, she said she’s sure the effort will be a bipartisan one. Beyond enacting legislation, however, Oliver said the Assembly is taking on insurance companies, too.
Already, she said, reports have been trickling in through emails to state legislators that residents are struggling to get the support they need through the insurance they’ve paid for.
"We want to strongly communicate to the insurance companies that you’re not going to stiff our residents,” she said. “We’re putting them on notice.”
Thursday, however, was not the time for discussion of potential legislation that will eventually come out of Trenton, but rather a chance for those outside of Sandy-ravaged areas to gain some perspective.
The barrier island is still closed to the public. Property owners have been allowed back to assess the damage and begin cleaning up their homes, if there’s still a home to clean up, but there’s no electricity and no gas service along much of the island.
Piles of trash line every street. Warped furniture and wet mattresses join discarded toys and personal effects. In some piles are Halloween decorations, totems erected in defiance of a forthcoming storm that would tear them all down.
Concrete barriers have been erected along roadways washed away by surging water and National Guardsmen, stationed at sporadic checkpoints, gather around flaming trashcans in an effort to keep warm during their 24-hour surveillance.
Assemblyman Angel Fuentes, D-5, whose district includes parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties, said there’s some muttering in the statehouse that those outside of significantly impacted areas don’t realize the gravity of the shore’s devastation and the effort it will take to bring it back.
Standing in the middle of the road in Mantoloking between the first and second floor of the same beach home on either side, Fuentes said he and his fellow Assemblymen and women understand the devastation.
“Good people have lost their properties. They’ve lost their dreams and their memories,” he said. “(The residents of impacted areas) have not been abandoned. That’s why we’re here today, both parties. It affects New Jersey. It affects all of us.”