A surreal scene of damage hits barrier islands

Mantoloking Inlet
Hurricane Sandy cut a new inlet through Mantoloking. (Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger)

This story was reported by MaryAnn Spoto, James Queally and Mark Mueller. It was written by Mueller. Published in The Star-Ledger Oct. 31, 2012.

Lyman Street doesn’t exist anymore. Hurricane Sandy wiped it off the map.

Where the Mantoloking street once stood, a river rushes from ocean to bay.

Few houses escaped without catastrophic damage. One simply disappeared, forced off its foundation by the unimaginable power of the sea and deposited in the bay a quarter mile away. There it remained yesterday, its roof poking from the water.

Bill Williams and Pete Majoras spotted it first. They’d come to check on a friend’s house. When the house wasn’t there, they went looking.

“All the landscape that I grew up with is not going to be the same, ” said Williams, 24, of Point Pleasant Borough.

During Sandy’s ferocious assault on New Jersey, it was the fragile barrier islands that were hit earliest and hardest, surrendering sand and homes and possessions.

Sandy didn’t discriminate. Affluent communities, typically more sheltered by geography and manmade barriers, suffered the same fate as honkytonk beach burgs: Massive erosion, shattered structures, memories lost.

As she stood beneath the splintered poles and wrecked wood panels that once made up a five-block stretch of the Seaside Heights boardwalk, Lisa Polonoli could do little more than shake her head. This stuff simply isn’t supposed to happen, she said.

“This just isn’t real, ” said Polonoli, 45, a resident of the borough. “Seeing it is not always believing.”

But there was so much to see.

The Jet Star rollercoaster lay in a pile of twisted steel and shattered wood at the lip of the ocean. A log flume ride collapsed into the sea, its incline stretching toward the sky, then falling off into nothing. Shifting sand and debris covered streets on the beach side of the island. On the bay side, the streets were under 6 feet of water.

Local police and fire officials did not immediately report any injuries or deaths, and the dozens of residents who stayed through the storm finally escaped the island on rescue trucks early yesterday afternoon.

Sandy was here, and the morning after, it was clear she gave no quarter. A quick walk around the island showed massive damage to one of the Jersey Shore’s most bustling summer towns.

The boardwalk was destroyed for several blocks on the northern end of the island. In other places, it buckled and shook in the wind.

Stores along the boardwalk leaned at an angle. Some had their fronts caved in. On streets alongside the beach, several houses were overturned, the pavement cracked and uprooted.

But the devastation was most stark at Casino Pier, where the oceanfront rides plummeted into the water. Aside from the Jet Star and the flume, another ride at the center of the pier had been reduced to scrap metal. Several arcades and restaurants were also crushed overnight. The smell of natural gas filled the air.

“It’s gonna be forever before they rebuild down here, ” said resident Joe Lanning, 49.

Many in Seaside Heights rode out the storm overnight despite a mandatory evacuation order.

Ken Diner, who works as a chef at Petey’s on the Park in Seaside Park, said he tried to escape from chest-high waters near the bay side of the island last night but found himself nearly washed away.

“I got outta my truck, because the water started going over the hood, ” he said. “Then the water went over my head, and I went right back in my truck.”

Yesterday, as he sat in the back of a rescue vehicle exiting Seaside Heights, Diner looked out at the waterlogged streets of the island and sighed.

Nearly every barrier island took a substantial hit from Sandy, considered one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in New Jersey in recorded history.

In Sea Isle City, the sand nearly buried benches on the boardwalk. Piles of debris lay scattered everywhere.

“There’s more sand on the promenade than the beach, ” said James ‘Pop’ Welsh, who said he weathered the storm by himself. “It was crazy.”

Sand and water filled the boardwalk’s beach patrol headquarters. Lifeguards shoveled sand into wheelbarrows to clean it out.

Patrol Captain Renny Steele called the town a mess.

“It’s going to take months until it is back to normal, ” Steele said.

Nearby, Angelo Camano, the owner of Angelo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, worked to pump 40 inches of water from the area where he stores dry good for his restaurant. He estimated he lost thousands of dollars in products.

Sandy, he said, had left him disheartened and drained.

“Mother Nature created these barrier islands, ” Camano said, “and if Mother Nature wants them back, she can certainly take them back.”

The images were similar in many of the communities. To the north, Bay Head and Point Pleasant were devastated.

Houses on both sides of East Lane in Bay Head had been ruined. Some were knocked 100 feet away and torn apart. One beachfront home looked like it had been hit by a wrecking ball.

The ocean ripped out stairways, smashed windows, stripped off shingles and scattered furniture like innards. In front of one home, a kitchen sink hung from a downed power line.

Point Pleasant Borough resident Pat Heeney used a pair of kayaks to ferry Steven Plofker, his son Duke and nephew Jeremey across a flooded area to check out their Bay Head house. Plofker, from Montclair, was astounded by the destruction of his beachfront home.

“This was a whole house, ” he said, looking at the cedarshaked home. Its side had been caved in, its stairs gone, its windows gone.

“I can see all my stuff, paintings and books, ” he said.

On Long Beach Island, 5 feet of water covered Hartland Golf & Arcade in Ship Bottom, where owner David Hartman was taking stock. The floodwaters, he said, were twice as high as a 1992 storm that devastated the island.

“I sure hope I never see the water come up like that again, ” Hartman said of the surge brought on by Sandy. “I can’t imagine the water getting any higher.”

Hartman declined to evacuate Monday. By evening, he said, the bay had met the ocean, and all that was visible near his spot on 28th Street were the dunes.

“The bay stretches behind me, through me, all the way up the street to the dune, ” Hartman said. “Basically it’s been a river since then.”

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