Forget the fact that I sat in traffic on the Garden State Parkway for more than 90 minutes to travel two miles to Exit 63 during the offseason.
One week after Sandy made landfall in the Garden State and decimated much of the Jersey Shore, I drove east on Route 72 this morning, a
Despite the summer-like traffic (access was limited from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and no cars were allowed on the Island after noon), the scene was as calm as any autumn Monday could be in early November. Then, Beach Haven West appeared on my right and the perfect calm quickly turned to gasps; horror and tears.
On LBI, the overcast sky turned a sort of camouflage as National Guard trucks blocked access to side streets in Ship Bottom.
Plans to check resident identification and re-entry tickets were quickly abandoned after officials learned traffic on the Parkway was surpassing summertime intensity (I am grateful and confounded. I had all my documents with me). Even with cars lagging to see the displaced boats lining the approach to the Causeway, the drive across the blue waters of the bay was easy.
Admittedly, I thought everyone blew LBI's damage out of proportion as I drove south on Long Beach Boulevard; which looked exactly as it did Oct. 26 (the day I evacuated ahead of Sandy). Remnants of sand remained, but it felt like just another day on LBI in the offseason - until I began looking down the side streets in Long Beach Township.
Sand piled like snow from the 2010 Christmas blizzard marked nearly every side street up to Ocean Boulevard. Still, I wasn't prepared for what I saw on the oceanfront road. It wasn't just the sight of sand everywhere. It felt different; like tragedy had somehow snaked its way into this slice of earthly heaven. The houses looked different and the air smelled, well, it didn't have the salt in it.
The two-lane Ocean Boulevard is boarded on both sides by mounds of plowed sand, blocking access to most driveways. Residents parked along side streets, carrying whatever belongings they wanted/needed to take with them today over piles of sand and debris.
Part of the road is washed away in front of my neighbor's home, revealing the infrastructure underneath. There are large appliances from somewhere else in my backyard; also a dock of some kind in the front yard and broken wood fence posts along one side.
The good news is the house is still standing and whatever damage appears to be cosmetic in nature. The bad news is some of my neighbors didn't fair as well. The oceanfront homes are shredded at the foundation; garage doors were blown out and a child's swingset was carried away by Sandy.
In my neighborhood, we all said the same thing - "as long as no one was hurt." Fences can be mended; homes can be rebuilt but a person can never be replaced and memories are never forgotten.
That's what I took with me as I left Long Beach Island today (that and some clothes to carry me through). Memories are one of the only things in life that truly belong to the individual.
Editor's Note: The author of this column, Gina G. Scala, is the former news editor of the Times-Beacon newspapers and a good friend of Barnegat-Manahawkin Patch editor Colleen Platt. I am very grateful to her for taking some time out of her busy schedule to share with our readers her experience of heading back to LBI following Sandy.