An Anniversary to Forget

Today marks a year...can it really be that long ago?  It seems like yesterday and it also seems like it just happened.

All East Coasters will know that I am talking about Sandy.  For us the word "Sandy" no longer conjures up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band or John Travolta crooning/whining out a song.  Sandy was THE storm.  A "Super" storm because it defied definition.  Not a hurricane.  Not a tropical storm.  A Super Storm that changed our world.

I was naive. I was uneducated.  I thought storms came and went.  You cleaned up and went on.  In our fast paced world, that's what it's all about.

But I was wrong.  I didn't learn from images of other disasters that faced "other people."  Now my family WAS the "other people."

There was little to no communication to the Barrier Island.  (Before last year I didn't even know that's what it was called.  I'd been going to the shore all my life.  I'd driven Route 35 through Mantoloking, Normandy Beach, Normandy Shores, Silver Beach, Chadwick Beach, Ocean Beach Unit III, II and I, Monterrey Beach, Lavallette, Ortley Beach, Seaside...and all the other little communities that I knew but where too small to even be on a map.  I knew these areas as well as I knew anything else in the world and yet I never heard them called the "Barrier Island.")  The internet was our only way of finding out what little information there was.  As helicopters fly by and we saw Camp Osborn burn to the ground, we searched to see if we could find my family's house.  Was it still there?

Zooming in and out, we found the house.  It was still there.  But it would be several weeks before anyone was allowed back on the island.  And that day I recall clearer than the days that followed the storm.

It was cold and rainy and I couldn't go with my parents due to another obligation.  It wouldn't have mattered any way.  Only 2 residents would be allowed on the bus that would take people into the towns from a central location and you had to have proof of residency.  So my parents drove down the parkway to the VFW Hall where they waited and eventually boarded a bus that took them past unbelievable wreckage.

I can't imagine how horrifying it must have been as they drove past a landscape that had once been so familiar and was now anything but.  Roads washed away.  Houses gone.  Embers still smoldering. National guardsmen patrolling.

They were let off on the highway (or what used to be a the main highway) and walked a block and a half to their home.  They were each allowed a suitcase each to carry what they could out of the house.  But as my mother said, what was the point?  What could you get in a suitcase?  What part of your life can you cram into a bag?

They called me on their way home several hours later.  The house was indeed still standing.  The boat that had been up on blocks in their front yard and "safely" stored for the winter was now in a neighbors driveway.  It had been elevated several feet off the ground, but now sat on the gravel.

Inside the house was strangely eerie.  While I went several weeks later to help with the clean up (once individual cars were allowed back in with a special pass that was checked by police and guards at several points), I'll never know what they must have felt (and smelled) when they first opened the front door and saw the mess.  Some things were undisturbed, while others were in strange places.  (Like the kitchen garbage can that ended up in a bathroom and the TV that ended up on the floor while the trunk that it had once stood on remained steadfastly in place.)

Thanks to some quick thinking and the kindness of neighbors, my parents found a contractor right away. (They went solely on the recommendation of a friend who simply said he had someone lined up to work on his house and would my parents like this contractor and his team to help out with their house?  Without hesitation or any real knowledge of credentials, they said yes, which would turn out to be one of the best things they could have done).  Over the next several weeks, I went with my father down to the house and along with the contractor's team took EVERYTHING out.  Most everything was thrown was soaked and moldy.

My mother didn't go.  She has breathing issues and the mold that covered everything was toxic, not just to her, but to anyone who worked there.  We wore masks.  But the stench prevailed as we carried out pieces of family history to the curb.  Or, if we could, shoving it into the back of my father's SUV to see if it could be salvaged.

My family was one of the lucky ones.  They didn't hesitate and they had a contractor working on their house all winter long.  They didn't have to tear down, although they did have to start over from the very basics with no floors and only partial walls.  The house was never locked from November of 2012 to May of 2013.  What was the point?  There was nothing there.

My parents dealt with insurance companies and representatives.  They met with government agents.  They dug in deep and used the savings that they had.  Again, I say, my family was lucky.

In June of 2013 they were ready to move back into their shore house.  It wasn't 100%, but it was livable.  And by the end of the summer it was a home again.

It amazes me that it took so long.  It also amazes me that it was done so quickly.  For in the tiny community that my parents live in, still more than half the people are NOT back in their homes.  The "For Sale" signs still dominate the landscape. With the "season" officially over (and what a strange "season" it was with only one beach open), the work begins again.  More houses are coming down. Even more are being raised up (to comply with flood/insurance regulations...something my parents chose NOT to do as a result of the high cost and  funds that have been used up to repair and replace).  The noise of trucks and bulldozers continue.

It is a year later and still there is much work to be done.  In places it looks worse than it did this summer because now that the "summer people" are gone the road  (Highway 35...the ONLY way in and out) is being worked on which leaves only one "lane" open (which is actually the left hand shoulder of a two lane road) for the entire run of the southbound highway.  As funds have come in more houses are now being torn down, raised up and rebuilt.  A year later and there is more work then ever.  (And this is not including the work that will have to be done on the boardwalk in Seaside which burned just over a month ago...that's a whole other story).

It took this disaster for me to realize that in today's world of instant gratification, there is none when it comes to rebuilding.  I now understand why there are STILL people suffering in New Orleans.  (Where I once was so callous to think "how could that be.")  And how next year and most likely in the years to come I will still be seeing the shore being restored because restoration is a long term project...and one that we cannot forget.


  1. Yes, Beth, Sandy is more than a name to those of us on the central East Coast, I am sorry your parents lost so much and had such hardship. Their neighborhood has been forever changed, hopefully for the better. So many have not received their rebuilding money and states will be a long time restoring roads, wildlife sanctuaries, and beaches/dunes. Although it is different in many ways, at least you have your parents and a family home again. The holidays will be better than last year. Sandy may have beat at us but there is so much she could not destroy.


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