Comfort in Numbers: Life After Sandy

Her Bay Head home battered by Sandy, our home & garden editor learns to roll with the punches.

Storm Damage in Bay Head
Day 3.
Courtesy of Lauren Payne.

Day 1, October 29: It’s 6:30 am; time to evacuate our home in Bay Head. We should have left last night, but there we were, sitting cross-legged on the family-room floor, playing Bananagrams and eating pizza—delivered well past mandatory evacuation time. It was a mother’s dream: both teenage kids and their friends actually hanging out with the adults.

Now the ocean is rising simultaneous with the sun, overrunning the beach and advancing toward our home just a block and a half away. We must flee. We hop in the car and head for the safety of a friend’s house in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Day 3: We return to find our town virtually unrecognizable. Bay Head and neighboring Mantoloking are devastated. Our street is covered with 6 inches of sand and debris. The wooden beach platform, where the badge checker sits, is in our front yard. On East Avenue, where I’ve walked with my girlfriends nearly every day for the past 16 years, every third or fourth home has been destroyed by the surging waters, their contents spilled blocks away. We hear Mantoloking is even worse, but we can’t get that far; the police turn us away, warning of possible gas leaks.

Our house took on about 18 inches of salty, stinky, debris-filled water. The floors are grimy with sand. The stench is incredible. The backyard is a mess. My grand 60-foot cedar has fallen across the deck; sections of our fence and tree fort are afloat in several feet of stagnant water.

With power out, motels far and wide are closed. My cell phone won’t make calls, but as we drive west I’m able to text my sister in Chicago. She starts calling motels, finally finds one with power in Cherry Hill. We get there. A hot shower never felt so good. Restaurants, too, are dark, but at last we find one. Inside, people are laughing, drinking cold beer and eating hot meals. It’s astonishing.

Day 4: Back in Bay Head, we don masks and rubber gloves and begin to rip out the first floor. The next few days are a blur. At some point the National Guard rolls in, reducing me to tears. We now have to show ID to get into our town. A soup kitchen springs to life at the Methodist Church, and quickly becomes the place to share advice and swap stories with neighbors. The outpouring of community spirit is amazing. The family of my daughter’s boyfriend—people I hardly know—spend an afternoon hauling my ruined appliances to the curb. Members of Point Pleasant Beach High School’s undefeated football team go house-to-house, removing waterlogged sofas and ripping out drenched insulation. Everywhere people are giving hugs.

Day 10: Good things are happening. It’s amazing what the road crews have achieved, clearing enormous mounds of sand. Power has been restored to many homes—not yet on my block. School is back in session; an abridged homecoming celebration is planned. FEMA is in town, as are dozens of insurance adjusters. A makeshift voting station has been set up in the firehouse. We’ve slept in five different places since the storm but plan to settle into a friend’s summer home once power is restored. We hope to be back in our own house by summer. My mood is high and low, just like the tides.

Day 17: Things are still pretty dire. I spent nearly four hours at the FEMA office yesterday. They’re visiting our house today; the foundation appears to be cracked. The town is still surrounded by the National Guard and we still have no power—despite what the governor says. Not that there’s much left that needs a power source. I’m still dressing out of a gym bag.

Day 23:
It’s confirmed: Our house has structural damage and will have to be shored up before it can be repaired.

Day 30: I’ve rented a house around the corner—a miraculous home that escaped serious damage. We’ll settle in here for the winter. Outside, huge claws load piles of debris into trucks. Every day is a new adventure.

Click on the links below to read more Hurricane Sandy recovery stories:

Sea Change: Post-Sandy Rebuilding
The post-Sandy rebuilding is about to begin. How will the lessons learned change the face of our Shore?

How Much Will Safer Shore Homes Cost?
How we rebuild Shore homes and businesses may be as critical as where.

Building Better Boardwalks: How Asbury’s Modern Boardwalk Withstood the Storm
Here’s how Asbury Park did it—largely sparing its popular promenade from devastating damage.

The Hudson Challenge: Are Critical Infrastructure Upgrades Overdue?
On Jersey’s Gold Coast, aging infrastructure can no longer be ignored.

Read more Jersey Living articles.

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