Greetings From The Jersey Shore

I’m one of the lucky ones. No power, no heat and no phone service – but I have a (damaged) roof over my head, a bed and blankets, sweaters and coats to keep me warm, food to eat and potable water to drink. Yesterday, spotty cell service returned, so I could phone loved ones and friends to assure them that I was safe. (I even got a phone call from Bill Clinton, urging me to vote for Obama.)

Thousands, I don’t know how many, are not so lucky. They are still in shelters, in motels, scattered refugees, their homes either swept away by a ferocious ocean and swollen rivers or damaged beyond repair by trees uprooted and turned into deadly missiles by Sandy’s savage winds.

Everywhere are the empty shells of homes, restaurants, beach cabanas, boats; miles of broken boardwalk; shattered pieces of amusement park rides – everything that was part of the “old normal” at the Jersey Shore that I’ve loved since I was a little kid.

As the storm approached, I was ordered out of my 70-year-old oceanfront apartment building. I had weathered Irene at home with very little damage. But this time, I believed the dire warnings and went to my daughter’s house, about a mile inland. As we hunkered down on Monday evening, Sandy began battering the towns and villages along Jersey’s 127-mile shoreline. All around us, power lines fell, sizzled and arced, looked like cartoon lightning against the blackness of the sky. Lights went out, furnaces died, power was gone.

When the winds subsided into an eerie stillness, we ventured out to see what was gone and what had been spared. My building was still standing, though a cascade of broken roof tiles scattered the street and destroyed a car in the parking lot. A giant tree yawed crazily toward my second floor apartment. On the oceanside of the building, the idyllic grassy knoll where my neighbors and I had picnicked was gone, swallowed by the ocean, and all that remained was rubble and the rusting skeleton of the destroyed bulkhead.

Driving around, trying to assess damage was difficult; fallen trees and downed wires blocked almost every thoroughfare; yellow police tape limited access to the worst areas. So much bad news: the Asbury Park boardwalk, the Ocean Grove fishing pier, Seaside Park boardwalk, Point Pleasant Beach – on and on. Deaths from falling trees and other storm-related causes.

I found an old battery-powered radio, and listened for hours to 94.3 FM, “The Point,” heard Governor Christie and President Obama assure us that help was on the way, listened to the concert that Bruce and Bon Jovi and others gave in NYC to benefit the Red Cross and victims of Sandy. “That’s us,” the announcer declared. I didn’t feel like a victim. I was one of the lucky ones. The victims were the dead, the disabled, those who were suffering the kind of tragedies that I had been spared.

As always happens during and after disasters, Sandy brought out the best and worst in people. My son-in-law, a nurse who worked 12-hour shifts at a nearby hospital, came home and helped clear branches and tree limbs from the homes of older neighbors. He filled cans of gasoline and gave them to neighbors who had generators. Neighbors shared food and firewood.

Wegmans supermarket remained open after the storm, using generator power to prepare hot food, to bake bread and pastries and to welcome one and all to use their Wi-Fi, to charge phones and laptops – and to get warm.

The worst: fights in stores over limited supplies of batteries, fights at long gas lines – so many of our stations were closed, either because they had run out of gas or because they had no power for the pumps – looting in some areas, dangerous cowboy driving because traffic lights were out. Power has been coming back, slowly, but not here in Interlaken. This town of 400 homes is a low priority for JCP&L, which is necessarily focusing on bigger towns and commercial areas.

Traffic on the Turnpike and Parkway has been bad, even on the weekend, as New Jersey Transit train service to and from NYC is suspended, the tracks badly damaged, with no estimate of when service on the New Jersey Coast Line will be restored. The traffic problem is compounded by the long lines for gas along both major roadways.

Anyone planning to travel to the Shore, perhaps to check on relatives and friends should be prepared for a long and possibly difficult trip. Drivers should fill their tanks before they leave, as gas is rationed, with purchases allowed on odd or even days, determined by the odd or even final numbers on license plates. (Vanity plates are odd, so are plates that have no numbers.) Some roads are still closed or only partly open.

Traffic will be heavy as residents try to get back to work. There is no train service to the Shore. Academy busses are operating between NYC and some Shore towns, though some busses will be rerouted due to storm damage. Check for schedules (such as they are) and routes. Be aware that a curfew is in effect in all the coastal Monmouth County towns, with non-essential travel banned between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Tonight, when temperatures drop to the 20s, we will pile mattresses on the living room floor and sleep in front of the fireplace, and hope that pipes will not freeze or burst. Thanks to a kind neighbor’s donation of firewood, we will keep a fire going through the night. On Tuesday we will vote, using paper ballots if necessary.

And then we will pray that the Nor’easter that’s headed our way will not flood any more homes, will not knock down any more trees or power lines, will not batter people and places that are already down for the count.

[Photo Credits: Lillian Africano]