Calm picture of beach at the Jersey Shore

My Jersey Shore

November 4, 2012

in beach, childhood, family, friends, helping others, home

At first, it was kind of comical — a storm called Sandy aimed right at the Jersey Shore. How aptly named.

In the buildup to its landfall, many thought it was a safe bet that Sandy wouldn’t be as serious as expected, like her cousin Irene the previous fall. The state had ramped up for that storm, and my mom and best friend, who had a six-week-old baby at the time, were issued mandatory evacuations for their coastal towns in Ocean County, NJ.

I chatted with my best friend last Saturday night East Coast time. She was once again gearing up for an evacuation, her now 15-month-old son babbling in the background as he tried to “help” ¬†pack. My mom emailed to say she had received another mandatory evacuation notice but was going to stay put with my sister and uncle in southern Ocean County, about 30 miles north of Atlantic City, right where Sandy was predicted to make landfall Monday night. Reports came that further up the coast, near my hometown of Brick, NJ, a portion of which sits on the same barrier island as Seaside Heights, where the Jersey Shore was originally filmed, massive destruction to homes was possible.

I stayed even-headed about it all until Tuesday morning Sydney time, when I started seeing all the pictures of early flooding and news updates online. My sister posted a picture in the middle of the day Monday U.S. time on the East Coast of the rising bay behind my mom’s house, a full seven hours before the storm was actually due to hit. There were the normal cheeky Facebook updates about stocking up on booze as companies swiftly canceled the following day of work. But amidst the silly sarcasm, it was becoming clear that the forecasters had been right this time. Sandy was going to hit, and she was going to hit hard.

Calm picture of beach at the Jersey Shore

Then the hilarity turned to hysteria. Lights began flickering in houses as the power went out town by town. The wind rapped on the windows as structures shuttered. I emailed my mom, then tried to phone her, but it went straight to voicemail. I looked for my sister online. The estimated time of Sandy’s landfall — 8 p.m. — near Atlantic City drew closer. In the dark and the dwindling power, the Jersey Shore huddled together and braced itself for the worst as I watched from 16,000 miles away in sunny, springtime Sydney.

I held it together until close to the end of the work day, 2 a.m. East Coast time, when a flurry of tweets told me that much of my mom’s township was already underwater. News reports of electrical fires firefighters couldn’t reach in my mom’s area filled up my feed. I imagined my middle-aged mom and older uncle floating in a living room of filthy flood water, without power, in the cold darkness.

The thing that did it: a tweet that “bodies” were floating around¬†in my mom’s township. Clamminess swept over me as I realized my family could die in this storm. They could already be dead or severely injured. Their house could be gone.

At home, I cracked open a beer and succumbed to the old habit I now only turn to when extremely drunk or extremely nervous — smoking. I hung out my window with a sideways glance at Brendan’s Mac live-streaming storm coverage out of New York. Reporters were stuck in a flooded hotel in Seaside Heights and images of deluged Manhattan, where a close friend lives, popped onto the screen. I continually tried to dial my mom, and then my sister, but their phones went straight to voicemail. Facebook had gone quiet as it was now 3 a.m. on the East Coast. The fear burbled up from somewhere in the bottom of my stomach. I tried to make dinner to calm myself down, but in the end I could only manage a few forkfuls. I fidgeted and paced and kept trying to dial home until I eventually exhausted myself enough to fall into bed around 10:30 p.m.

Destruction from Sandy at Jersey Shore

I awoke with a start just after 3 a.m. I had been dreaming about the storm. My restlessness woke Brendan. A half hour later when I was still awake, Brendan told me to try and call home. I had avoided this, the obvious thing to do, because I didn’t know if I could handle hearing my mom’s phone go straight to voicemail again. It was noon on the East Coast by this time — if she wasn’t answering her phone, it could just be that she’d lost power and hadn’t charged her phone. Or it could mean something worse.

I sat down at my computer to use Google Voice. The first try went to voicemail. I tried again after a few minutes. Three rings, and then, “Hello?”

My stomach somersaulted. “Mom?” I asked. “Are you OK?” In all my years of reaching out for or calling my mother, I was never so relieved to hear her voice as I was in that moment.

She was fine. Everything around her had flooded, but somehow, her house had been spared. There was no power, and she was conserving her phone charge for that reason. Beyond what she could immediately see around her, she had no idea how bad the storm had been. I started reading her tidbits of news — there had been fires, deaths, whole communities swept into the sea. The Mantoloking Bridge, four miles from the house in which I grew up along the road to the beach, had houses on top of it.

She was sorry she had worried me. She was sorry she had stayed behind. Never, she said, would she do that again if another massive storm threatened her coastal town.

I got myself back to sleep and then up for work a few hours later, on Halloween. Facebook posts reassured me that my closest friends were OK. My best friend’s house had also been spared, but she’d had to do a double evacuation, as the first house she went to had several trees fall on top of it.

Then the pictures started circulating. Parts of my hometown have been destroyed. The beaches are devastated and whole neighborhood blocks have been erased from the map. The most apt description of the destruction of the barrier island portion of my hometown is that “ocean met bay.”

The Mantoloking Bridge after Sandy, Brick, NJ

A roller coaster from the Seaside boardwalk floats in the ocean. The boardwalk is now just scattered scraps of wood. The peninsula of LBI, where my family spent several holidays, and the last place I went fishing with my dad, is a disaster. Boats sit in driveways, nowhere near the docks to which they’d been tethered. Bridges are closed off. My old elementary school is a FEMA shelter.

These images and the news of the destruction of the area in and around where I grew up make me feel a mix of sad nostalgia and shock. New Jersey is America’s most densely-populated state and also one of its most debt-ridden. The Jersey Shore is not only iconic, but also a main source of tourism dollars for the state. It will take several jackpots and possibly several years to rebuild all that has been lost.

Before and after photo of Brick, NJ shoreline after Sandy

This is my Jersey Shore. I no longer live there, but my history and my people are there. All of my childhood and adolescence took place there. I first rode a bike, kissed a boy and drove a car there. My family and all my friends lived there, and my father died there. To know me — whether you’ve known me in New Jersey, Philadelphia or Australia — is to know that this is where I’m from.

And if you know me, you know that this one will hurt for a while.

To donate to Sandy relief efforts, visit the Red Cross web site.

Photos licensed under Creative Commons and courtesy, in order, of ScottyP, The National Guard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr.

18 Comments - Add Yours!

  1. Danielle

    This is such a crazy situation that everyone is going through in that area and others. My in-laws live a mile from the Mantoloking Bridge, and when we saw that very same photo of it washed away and houses surrounding it completely demolished, we were worried, to say the least. Thankfully their house just got flooded. They still don’t have power, but the house is standing, they are alive. They are ok and they will repair the damages. I can’t stop thinking of the others, ones who lost their lives, their loved ones, their houses, everything. Thanks for this heartfelt post.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Wow, Danielle, I can’t believe your in-laws are so close. Are they on the barrier island side? I am glad they are safe — I will keep them and their neighbors in my thoughts. Thank you very much for reading this post.

      Reply
      1. Danielle

        No, they are on the other side thankfully. They had at least 4ft of water in their garage and probably a foot or so inside the entire ground level. All floors and furniture ruined… but like we have all said, they are alive and that is the most important thing. Just breaks my heart to see all those houses completely destroyed!

        Reply
  2. Ali

    This is so awful, I’m so sorry to hear about all this damage but glad your mom is ok. My brother and lots of friends live in northern NJ & they got hit pretty bad too. But it sounds like they were spared from a lot of the flooding the shore got. One friend posted on FB that the estimate she was given for getting power back is Nov 25! Ugh. I hope everyone recovers quickly.

    Reply
  3. Lauren Post author

    It’s crazy Ali. I’m glad your brother is OK. Where is he based? I am hearing that between power and schools reopening, it will be at least another week. It’s shut down regular life for so many people.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Fritsky

    Hi Lauren, I always enjoy reading your articles. When I read the last part about your father It brought tears to my eyes.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: The Beach and the Superhero

    1. Lauren Post author

      Ugh, yeah, it’s literally a wreck. Lots of cleanup efforts underway almost a month later. It’s sad, but nice to see people pulling together.

      Reply
  6. Arjun Rajkumar

    Really sorry to read this. I hope the people and the city are recovering now. Sitting in India I saw this in the news, but couldn’t really empathise to it as much as I do reading this blog. I hope everything is better now. Would love to hear an update on how the people are coping after Sandy. Hope you are well.

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment, Arjun, and thank you for reading the blog. People are still struggling there and much of the destruction hasn’t been repaired. Fortunately, the NJ state governor really pushed for a quicker response of federal aid and Congress is now in the midst of passing it through. So hopefully, in the next few months, there will be progress.

      Reply
  7. Marisa

    Lauren, I came across your blog while researching moving to Australia. Although I have lived there once and just came home a few weeks ago from a month long trip. I live on the JERSEY SHORE too! Do you have an email that I can get in touch with youa and ask you a few questions? thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. Lauren Post author

      Hey Marisa! I just saw your friend request on Facebook — you know two of my friends: Manda Rasch, who is from CT but now lives in Sydney and works with my soon-to-be husband, and Nicole Grosso, the cousin of my oldest friend in the world who lives in NJ and will be in my wedding in April. Please get in touch with me at lgfrits at yahoo dot com.

      Reply

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