UPDATE: Homeowners who sustained damage estimated at more than 50% of the struture's assessed value will need to rebuiid to current building codes which do not allow for ground level structures, according to Stafford Townshiop Administrator James Moran. In addition, all homes that had more than three feet of water inside will not have power restored until the home has been evaluated and repaired by a licensed electrian and then inspected by the township building department.
I thought I had seen the worst of what Sandy could do to my town as I piled my soaked furniture and carpet at the curb.
My whole neighborhood looked like some kind of demented yard sale with anything and every thing piled haphazardly under the sun. But at least we had place to rebuild, renovate or restore.
Then I crossed over the Causeway onto Cedar Bonnet Island, Stafford’s eastern most community, where I saw home after home with red stickers declaring them “unsafe for human occupancy.”
The exact number was unavailable by press time, but at least two dozen were observed throughout the small island community. The majority being smaller ranch style homes and cottages that were overwhelmed by Hurricane Sandy.
Township authorities had opened the community to residents on Friday afternoon. It was the last section of Stafford to have its access restrictions lifted, and most of the first residents back I met walked about stunned at the destruction.
“There’s a boat in their house,” said Tina Martin as she pointed directly across the street from her home. Sure enough, a large speed boat had broadsided the small house facing the bay taking out the whole back wall.
Tina and her husband Michael had already been inside their own fulltime residence and found the first floor destroyed.
“I thought the worst when we left,” said Michael. "I was glad to find it is not that bad. It’s not livable now, but at least it’s not condemned.”
A few doors down, another year round resident, Mike Cafone had ridden Sandy out while the storm came in and washed out the entire garage beneath his Circle Drive home.
“I watched it come in from the south and it looked like I was going to be OK,” he said. But when the back end of the storm came at the island from the north that was when “things got hairy,” he added.
“I won’t do that again,” said Cafone, much to his wife’s relief who had just arrived to check on him and their house.
Cafone’s brother-in-law, Bill Durkin, who owns a home on Fourth Street, said a man had just been by his house to look for his boat. “Someone over on Long Beach Island told him it had washed over here, and sure enough it did,” he said. The cabin cruiser was sitting across Fourth Street at the end of the block.
Along Circle Drive and the other four or five blocks of the south end, contractors from New Jersey Natural Gas were paving over the holes that had been dug earlier in the week when gas service was turned off to all houses at the street.
On the northside, at the Dutchman’s Brauhaus, Cedar Bonnet’s landmark restaurant and watering hole, co-owners David and Rick Schmid and crew were cleaning up and looking to the future.
“The gas lines have been pressure tested, so we could start getting back in operation as soon as they turn us back on,” said chef David Schmid. They had planned to stay open until Christmas, but now even reopening by then looks doubtful, he said.
"Whenever it is, it won’t be the same." he said. "It also won’t be the LBI we knew,” said Schmid.
Schmid said he and his brothers, there are four all together in the operation, had donated most of the food on hand to the shelter set up at the Southern Regional High School last Wednesday night. (That really made me wish I had evacuated there.)
“We served Wiener schnitzel, spatzel, red cabbage, the works," said Schmid.
Both brothers said the damage to the building and interior was minimal, but a large part of the boat docks that are part of the waterfront Quelle bar was gone.
The residential properties that sit on the north end of Cedar Bonnet Island with the Dutchman’s also incurred little damage. The island is divided in half by the Causeway onto Long Beach Island, which still remains closed to all but authorized personnel.
The Schmids’ dinner donation was just one of countless acts of kindness and generosity being shown by area residents.
As I was surveying the south end just a couple hours after it opened up, a van driven by Dan Malay, assistant pastor of the Impact Community Church, pulled up. He and a church member were carrying cups of hot coffee and sandwiches for the returning residents.
“We’ve been driving through the area wherever we could for the past couple days,” he said.
"It’s amazing how people’s faces can brighten up just by handing them a cup of coffee,” he said. “It shows them that someone cares.”