Lieve was saying as we were getting ready this morning how she didn’t understand the phrase “Noun” Strong. America Strong, Jersey Strong, it just didn’t sound right. I explained that the noun is taken as an adjective, replacing “very” or “extremely”.
I dropped her off at work and headed to Ortley Beach, near Seaside Heights, NJ. I’ve been there most of the week with some friends from High School, rebuilding some of the damage from Superstorm Sandy. Yeah, that big storm last year. Had I not known how bad it had been, I would have thought nothing had been done.
When I was in High School, Seaside Heights was where we went at the shore (the beach for the rest of the world). I never liked roller coasters, and I had thought this one was too rickety thirty eight years ago, but it held together while the pier it had been on was destroyed.
These shore points are actually on a barrier island, at some points during the storm the ocean met the bay behind the island, the island just disappeared. My friend ran a marina that no longer exists. Everything is gone. Including his job. Homes were picked up and carried away. Sand washed over everything, and the high water line at one person’s house that we were working on was at my eye level. Residents were not allowed to return to their homes for months, often discovering that their home no longer existed, or was a pile of rubble. As the highway crews came through to demolish homes that were in the street, some folks were surprised to return a second time to find their house missing. It had moved far enough to block traffic and had been destroyed between visits.
The boardwalk in Seaside heights was rebuilt and opened on Memorial day, seven months after the storm, but the neighborhoods are still a disaster. In many cases these properties are second homes or income property, and with the economy in the shape it is, repairs were not high on the list of priorities. A lot of people, however, lived at the shore, either because it was where they made their living (for the ten weeks of tourist season every year), or because they had retired to the shore. We’re not talking about well off people, we’re talking about people who were just clinging on before the storm.
We’ve made some great friends. While we were working on one project we met a woman from down the block, Carolina, who said her husband, Cosimo, could use a little help. These two are in their seventies and were rebuilding by themselves.
Cosimo was going to rebuild the front of his house by himself. We weren’t going to let that happen. By the end of the next day we had completed the walls, and installed windows that my friend Tim (more on Tim later) had brought from Iowa.
We got to know Cosimo and Carolina, and tomorrow we’ll be finishing up the roof. We were able to help with some of the red tape and get their electrical inspection completed. The Mayor came by to visit, and when we found out that today (Thursday 12 September) is their fiftieth wedding anniversary the Mayor arranged for them to have dinner at a nice restaurant in town.
This mission was organized by my friend Tim Sickel. Tim lost everything in Hurricane Andrew, and has spent his life helping people rebuild after disasters ever since. He put together a group to rebuild in Joplin MO a few years ago, and I was able to get a friend I have in Joplin to meet and work with his group. Tim knows that we are all one big family, and although once in a blue moon people fail to appreciate his kindness (he was sued by the family of a child he had rescued from drowning, because he had broken the boy’s ribs when giving CPR) but usually kindness is met with kindness. Carolina made a wonderful lunch for all of us one day.
Today while we were working on a house we noticed the smell of smoke and heard some fire engines. Then we heard some more fire engines, Then we noticed a smokey haze everywhere.
A fire had started in an ice cream shop on the south end of the boardwalk. The wind was blowing North at about thirty Mph. The freshly rebuilt boardwalk and at least twenty buildings are still on fire as I write this, four hours later. When I picked up Lieve, she could smell the smoke on my clothes.
The latest reports have the fire at ten alarms. Portions of the boardwalk were torn out to create fire breaks, but the wind just carries embers down the street. With all the debris and building materials in the area, this has the capability of going catastrophic.
I’ll be going down with Lieve in the morning, she was able to sell the idea of a day off for volunteering to her director, who is a strong supporter of the “Jersey Strong” campaign. We will continue to rebuild from the last disaster while the current disaster is being assessed.
Seaside Heights survived “Snookie” and “MTV’s Jersey Shore”, it survived Superstorm Sandy and it will survive this horrific fire. That’s what Jersey Strong means.