We saw it coming about a week or so in advance, but the devastation left behind was far worse than the worst-case scenarios we envisioned in our mind.
Now, a week after Sandy struck the New Jersey coast, there are still so many struggling in the dark in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, without power, without running water, without enough gas, and without transportation.
What Sandy did was not only devastate a region, but forever changed the landscape of an area many hold so dear. The pictures of tangled amusement parks and mangled dunes, splintered boardwalks and broken lives are impactful even to the casual viewer. But to someone who grew up going to the boardwalk in Ocean City and fishing with their dad and uncle off the coast, the sight of such destruction is almost too much to bear, yet alone bearing that from so far away.
Don't get me wrong, I know nothing of the suffering that so many are going through right now. But I can relay some of their stories.
Friends of mine from Bergen County, a western suburb of New York City have an infant only a few months old. They learned the lessons of Hurricane Irene in 2011 and purchased a generator. Now, power outages at local gas stations are being somewhat eased by the delivery of emergency gasoline, but gas is still hard to come by, and for the elderly folks in their neighborhood, that means cold nights. What are my friends doing? They're lending a hand and helping their neighbors to stay warm by lending them the generator.
Further south, another couple my wife and I are close friends with spent their weekend helping friends who had been flooded out by Sandy despite not having power themselves. They filled their own bathtub with water before the storm arrived, so they'd have water to flush the toilet, but that water ran out, and the couple and their young son eventually had to take refuge with relatives further inland.
Just to the east lies Highlands. This is where my wife lived for a couple of years while teaching on the North Jersey shoreline. The views are magnificent. You can see the beautiful ocean, and the stunning skyline of New York. The locals are a great group of hard-working, blue-collar people who are welcoming and amusingly brash. You can walk to the beach from some of their backyards, but this is no resort town. It's a small fishing village, with delicious little clam and crab shacks and an occasional visit by Bon Jovi who lives a few miles down the road. That small town got a big jolt last week. Some reports told of nearly two stories worth of water, and countless evacuees.
And in the town next door, where we once watched two friends get married in a beachfront ceremony, all that's left of the beautiful restaurant and reception area is a building stripped of its siding. It's been broken and shifted off the foundation. A whole cottage-sized chunk of the structure lies in ruins in its own parking lot, sheared off from the rest of the building. Sea Bright, as the town is called, is but a shell of its former self.
In Long Beach Island, a long stretch of barrier island with only one bridge in and out, a friend of mine has no idea what is left of his parents home. The couple bought the small cottage in the 1970s, and it holds a special place in the hearts of not only their family, but in mine. I spent most of my Memorial Day weekends as a kid at Jon's house, enjoying barbecues, wiffleball, and time spent with what I consider a wonderful second family. That bridge I mentioned is for the most part shut down. This family won't know what is left of their place until at least Wednesday when most access is restored to the island.
Southward, in Ocean City, New Jersey, generations of the Wilkins family have been fortunate enough to vacation for years. Some, like my dad's two brothers eventually called the city home, raising their children by the normally gentle crash of waves. Three of his sisters eventually purchased property here as well. As for me, the older I get the more and more I realize how fortunate I was. My parents would rent a beach house for the whole summer from the time I was born right up until college. I worked my first job here, flipping burgers at Beachside Snacks on 34th Street (my aunts worked there too years before). I would also set up umbrellas for people coming to visit the beach. Some of the best friendships my sister and I ever made were during those summers. We spent time with those friends and our family. We fished, rode bikes, played in the ocean, ate junk food on the boardwalk, and listened to the Philadelphia Phillies on the radio. It was special. For the most part, aside from some water in the garage and some sand in the alleyways, my family saw their homes make out fairly unscathed. However, my uncle and cousin saw several feet of water lay waste to their small business, and that boardwalk, which holds so many memories, is gone. In fact in almost every beach town with a boardwalk on the entire New Jersey coastline, those boards will have to be replaced.
But these are just my memories. Nothing can replace them. Will it make me sad to find a different shoreline and different buildings the next time I return? Sure it will. But what matters most isn't me, or the fact that I get choked up when I see the pictures of the devastation left behind. What matters most is that people are in need. They're cold. They're hungry. They have no power and some are entirely powerless.
They aren't asking for handouts. Trust me, these are proud, tough people. All they need is a push back toward normalcy and then with every shred of their being they will get the ball rolling again themselves. Once they have some shelter, some power, they'll be back and better than ever, but until then, they do need some help.
Anything you can spare is well appreciated. To donate to the Red Cross, visit:
http://www.redcross.org/charitable-donations or text 9-0-9-9-9 to REDCROSS
To donate to the Salvation Army, visit: https://donate.salvationarmyusa.org/disaster
Jen Zeuner, one of the owners of Hot Tomato is also from South Jersey and spent much of her youth in Ocean City as well. She contacted me after she read this story and asked me to let everyone know they are taking in donations of hats, coats, gloves, batteries, pet food, or whatever you can spare through their restaurant in Fruita through Friday. They will get these supplies to the local Red Cross.
Thank you for helping those in the OTHER place besides the Western Slope I call home. I have seen your generosity time and again in my four plus years here and thank you so much.