Where do I even start! This week has been surreal and the entire state of New Jersey (and parts of New York) is heart broken. I'll start with the actual storm.
(please pardon any typos and misspellings... I am just going to type without worrying about editting)
My MIL was here babysitting Ryan two weeks ago on Monday and she said that she was already hearing about a big storm coming up the coast for Sunday, October 28. By Tuesday, they were reporting that this storm had potential to be a hurricane and hit land fall around the Jersey Shore. On Wednesday the state had moved into Hurricane preparation mode. We all shopped and stocked up on batteries and water and candles and non perishables. We all did the same thing we did last summer for Hurricane Irene and I think in the back of our minds, we thought this would be just like Irene. We had no idea how wrong we were.
As of Sunday, we were in a state of emergency and all of the barrier islands and parts of town on the water were issued a mandatory evacuation. Luckily lots of people took the evacuation seriously and the shelters at High School East and High School North filled quickly. But of course there were plenty of people who decided to ride it out in their homes. All of town was pretty much shut down by 4:00pm on Sunday 10/28.
Monday morning 10/29 we woke up and it was very obvious that the storm was on its way. It was already windy, raining, and had a very ominous feel in the air. The weather prediction was that this was going to be a "potentially devastating storm" for many reasons. First of all it was slow moving. Second the storm made a literal left hand turn and hit directly into the Jersey Shore (it was soooo weird hearing all the news stations saying that the storm was expected to hit right around Toms River). Third, the storm was going to last through 2 high tide cycles, meaning that there was going to be a lot of water. And lastly, it was a full moon!
During the actual storm we decided to stay at our house instead of going to my parents. Our road floods on occasion, but we knew that we had the shelter literally across the street so we had a place to go in case of an emergency. I was ready, bags were packed just in case, and we just had to wait it out. There were plenty of times during that day that I was totally freaked! As the wind picked up our back door seemed like it was going to burst in. I guess because it is a newer door, instead of breaking it was bowing. That created a place for air to whistle in through the two doors and it was making an awful, loud, howling noise. I swear it sounded like a sick dog. We spent most of the evening just watching the trees and hoping they wouldn't crash into the house. Later at night when the worst part hit, the transformer at the end of our driveway was sparking and we could see the electricity coming out of it. Of course Ryan could not sleep, and woke up crying every 20 minutes or so. It was all very eery. I think we sat for hours just watching the transformer waiting for it to blow up, listening to the sirens around us, and waiting for the power to go out. Luckily for us, none of that happened.
When we woke up Tuesday morning we knew that we were okay. Some tree branches down and some shingles off the roof, but over all we got out of the storm in great shape. We had lost all access to cable and Internet (even on our cell phones) so we had NO IDEA what was going on around us. After a few hours, we decided to drive across town to my parents house, we needed to get out of the house and check out what was going on around town. Listening to the radio was the first indication of how bad things were. We started hearing the reports of the flooding, the emergency rescues, and that the Seaside Boardwalk Casino and Funtown Piers had collapsed into the ocean!
It took a few days before it really all sank in. We were hearing about the devastation on the radio but without being able to see it online or on TV I really didn't grasp it. But by Wednesday (which happened to be my 30th birthday) it all became real. I got on Facebook for the first time and saw all the pictures and comments people were posting, and we went to my aunts house and saw the helicopter tour of the coastline that showed all of the damage. It was soooooo much worse than I had even imagined. Our town and community is totally devastated.
The beaches are washed away, the boardwalk is collapsed and there is a roller coaster in the ocean, Pelican Island was totally under water, the streets of Silverton, Snug Harbor, Downtown, etc were completely flooded. People were being rescued through their roofs, people were dying because they were trapped in their homes, and people were soaking wet walking down our street trying to make it to the shelter. Homes were on fire because of gas leaks and other homes were literally picked up off their foundations and crashed down on other streets. My aunt described it as a monopoly board that someone picked up and shock all the pieces. This is where the heart break comes in. This is our town that is making international news because it was destroyed by a natural disaster. We were not watching a far away town or state, we were looking at pictures of our homes and our life.
Everyone knows someone (or multiple people) that has been directly impacted by this horrific storm. My friends, friends parents, family friends, new coworkers, old coworkers, have all completely lost their homes because of flooding in this storm. Apparently in the middle of the night there was a storm surge, and that surge did the most dramatic damage. I head someone say they were watching it from their window and it literally came so fast that it looked like a tsunami. This surge left homes with anywhere from 2-9 feet of water surrounding there homes. Most of the people that I personally know all have the same story. They need to gut their entire first floor of the house, get rid of everything, and now sit and wait for FEMA or insurance before deciding what to do next. In the meantime, they have no where to live. Its just devastating that they don't have homes to go to....thousands of people with no where to live!
Aside from the water issues, there are power issues. Today is a week after the storm, and there are still almost a million people in New Jersey that don't have power. So even if you still have a home... people are cold and have no water and have no heat or cable or ways to cook. This had lead to people being desperate for gas for generators, people living in other peoples homes, or plenty of people staying in the bitter cold. It is just awful.
There are times that this town feels like a war zone. The high school across the street was housing the national guard and the local police department. It was also a rescue center and a meeting place for all the different resources. So 24 hours a day we have sirens and caravans of utility trucks and fire trucks. We have people walking by with just small garbage bags trying to get to the shelter. Then there are all the helicopters that are flying so low that they sound like they will land on the house. Its all just scary.
Like I said, everyone I know was personally affected by this in some way. My personal devastation was my grandma's house. She has owned a house on Pelican Island for over 100 years. Their home was one of the very first ones on the island. The house was filled with pictures of the way Pelican Island, the Seaside Bridge, Seaside Park, and the boardwalk use to be like. They are one of the original families in town. My grandparents met on the Seaside Boardwalk, my mother grew up spending the entire summer living in the beach house, and I (along with my brother, sister, and 16 cousins) spent our childhood summers at that house and on that boardwalk. We have soooo many memories at that house, I can't even begin to get into the sentimental connections with that house. And now it is a total loss! No one is allowed over the Seaside Bridge. It is being blocked and armed by the police and national guard. The only way we know what is going on is by pictures and news reports. For several days we had no idea what had happened to the house and we were just waiting for something. One day while going through pictures that a random woman had posted on a Facebook page, we saw something that looked like Dee Bee's deck. Then there was a second picture that was 100% her deck. The problem was, this deck was on the opposite side of the island from where she lived. It was our first sign that things were not good. Eventually my uncle was able to get pictures from a friend of a friend of a friend.... that has never left the island. In these pictures it is clear that the house is severely damaged and will most likely need to be torn down. The whole front of the house was ripped off, it appears to be off the foundation, and there is a big "X" on the door marking it as condemned. At this point, we still haven't been able to go to the house, see for ourselves, or try to gather our families belongings.... so there is still a lot we don't know. But the bottom line is that our family home is destroyed.
The aftermath as of today is that towns are starting to figure out where to go from here. The barrier islands are still blocked off and no one is allowed to enter. There is talk that it will take 6-8 months for them to clean up the islands and fix the utilities before any reconstruction can even begin. Many homes are gutted and garbage just fills the streets waiting for the next step. And thousands of people are trying to figure out where they are going to live on a more permanent basis until they get their homes back (if they ever do).
Of course their is always a light at the end of the tunnel and people can be at their best in a time of need. Besides sadness, this week I have felt hopeful and extremely proud to live in such a great community. The people long the Jersey Shore have really stepped up and helped the people of their towns. People all around us are making donations to shelters and first responders, donating their time to help the shelters, distributing the donated items, feeding the people who are now homeless, cleaning out homes that have been destroyed, opening their homes to people who don't have power.... the list goes on and on. Since Sunday, normal life has pretty much stopped and everyone is working to do something to help the people around them. It is really an awesome thing to say. I am definitely proud to be a Jersey Girl.
Its the little things that have been making me smile, for example, I have not gone past a single police officer that did not have cups of coffee and/or food on the hood of their car that someone had given them just to help keep them warm since they are working 20 hour shifts. It just seems like most people stopped worrying about themselves and started paying more attention to other people around them.
There have been many tears this week. Little things like not being able to go for my Sunday run on the boardwalk this morning, makes it all seem real. Seeing all of these places that have been so important in my life destroyed is just hear breaking. Then seeing so many of our friends and family suffering with the loss of their home is heartbreaking. And then seeing some of my favorite celebrities (Bon Jovi of course) putting together a benefit concert for OUR home town is just surreal. Having the President of the United States touring your town in order to declare it a disaster area is just crazy. None of it seems real. I feel like I have said the words devastating, heart breaking, sad, and destroyed too much in this post... but there are no other words to describe what has gone on this week.
Anyway, tomorrow we attempt to resume some normalcy. Schools are still closed, but Mike and I are back to work. Its going to be a long time... a very long time, before things are back to normal and our state is rebuilt, but I can see the progress being made already. I can go on and on and on about whats been going through my head this week, but I think this is enough for now.
** Sometime this week I will come back and add pictures to this post. The pictures are hard to believe. Check back!