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On Long Beach Island, Communities Recovered Together

Hundreds of rescues, dedication of public works crews recalled

Damage from Sandy still evident in Holgate, Oct. 2013. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Damage from Sandy still evident in Holgate, Oct. 2013. (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Drive through most of Long Beach Island today and the signs of Sandy’s wrath aren’t as pronounced as on Ocean County’s northern barrier island.

You’re unlikely to see homes on their sides, like in Ortley Beach, or entire blocks leveled like in Mantoloking. But you’ll see the signs of despair – an unkempt lawn since the homeowner wasn’t there to mow it, no curtains in the picture window since nobody was there to hang them, and no lights on since nobody was there to read a book before bed time.

With the notable exception of Holgate, Long Beach Island’s dunes – the same ones that are coming to the rest of the Ocean County shoreline next summer – prevented breaches from cutting the island in half like the one that mangled Mantoloking. But the lack of extreme photos of catastrophic damage, some locals have said, also toned down the coverage of the heroics of first responders and the nonstop dedication of public works crews and others to restore the island as best they could.

“Our members, without hesitation, rescued well over 100 residents in less than 12 hours,” the Beach Haven Fire Company said in a social media post marking the anniversary. “This was just the first day of many of demanding tasks we took on. We were on our own for two days until we started getting mutual aid companies from all over NJ.”

Members of the Beach Haven squad stayed in the Engleside Inn during the storm, never taking a break from performing rescues.

Fire department buildings became more than just places to store fire trucks. In Surf City, anyone was welcome to come in for a hot meal in the days following the storm. It was a rare place of safety, and a place where everyone could find a friend.

Public Works crews, the unsung heroes of Sandy recovery, went to work on – literally – day one.

No sooner had my father and I dragged out some of our own waterlogged pieces of furniture from our home on a bay block in Surf City than a dump truck with the borough logo on the side, and a familiar face behind the wheel, was coming to haul it away.

The island pulled together quickly after the storm. The Surf City fire company hosted a jam-packed fundraiser in February featuring Shorty Long to support the neighboring Ship Bottom fire company. Polar plunges and 5K races benefited island residents trying to recover, and neighbors never stopped helping neighbors in need.

The realities of post-Sandy seen up and down the New Jersey coast, however, are still evident.

“After some ups and downs our family home on 7th Street is nearly finished,” said Marianne Freitag Cancellieri, another Surf City resident. “We have not raised it and do not know what we will do if we have to.”

Social media posts every day note the changing face of the island – neat Cape Cods being torn down in favor of what many deride as “McMansions.”

For better or worse, the island is changing. But longtime resident hope the spirit of their communities never will.

Long Time Local Teacher October 29, 2013 at 10:14 AM
The Island is changing, the times are changing, but the resilience of the residents of the barrier islands remains. Homes are slowly returning to the "new normal," but can we see the scars beneath refurbished exteriors? The greater scars that residents hide beneath stoic facades are deep and may never heal. Just like their homes, these folks look almost "normal," but look into their eyes. They, like the Island, have been changed forever.

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