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At The Jersey Shore, It's Getting Late Early

Darkness reigns where it was once sunny and bright, right where the cars normally line up for entry into Seaside, Ortley, Mantoloking and Bay Head

At the concrete barricades that seal off Ortley Beach, Bay Head and Seaside Heights from everything else, fully-armed police officers peek through dimly lit cars, looking for any trouble they can find.

The clouds that hover over them never seem to leave, covering what's left of the shining sun, long before it's ever supposed to set. Each officer is bundled in burly black jackets, pointing flashlights in each passing car before turning them away.

Wearing knitted hats that nearly wrap around their eyes and ears, these officers are mere shadows with badges, figurines with no faces that stop people from getting a glance, even a sniff of the beach.

Behind them is the only thing scarier than they are:

The darkness.

In Bay Head, at the foot of the Lovelandtown Bridge, these cops stand guard of the rows of million-dollar homes behind them, the ones still standing, with garbage piled on their front lawns and sidewalks. Missing are the burning flickers of street lights or living room lamps shining through their windows, just as night falls around 5 p.m.

Next door, in Point Beach, where anyone can enter now, piles of sand fill the big beach parking lot, the same one that normally packs the beachgoing cars during the summer, steered by drivers struggling to find a spot within that white-hot asphalt.

In each of these towns, the air smells like sand. The crashing waves get too close to the smashed-up boardwalks in Seaside Heights and Point Beach. There, 12-foot high, recently piled sand mounds are all that's keeping the ocean from roaring up, and ruining things all over again.

Darkness reigns over these towns now, creating a "new normal" that Governor Christie talked about some days ago, and one that we'll likely see for a while.

Darkness descends much like it did in New York City, back in September 2001. Many of us were there that day, or within a day after the attacks, and many times after, when the "pile" lay burning at Ground Zero. We were there when there were signs papering the walls of blacked-out storefronts, each pleading for a clue of the missing.

Then, the constant clouds of ash and smoke often blanketed the sun. Those who worked through the "pile" at Ground Zero lost track of the days of the week.

Now, as the Jersey Shore sorts through the rubble of its homes, just as Manahattan sorted through its ruins then, the people, the victims are asking the same things.

"Is today Sunday?"

No, they're told. It's Monday. Maybe even Tuesday.

I've heard comparisons between then-and-now, how some people are even calling Ortley Beach, and the once plush beachfronts nearby, "Ground Zero." The characterizations may seem unfair, perhaps inappropriate, especially when you compare the death toll between what happened then and now.

But the feelings, and the moods of the people there, are quite familiar. For many, this Hurricane Sandy was another kind of attack, one that didn't kill thousands, but still left too many dead, damaging much more than it killed.

Darkness reigns now, at the Jersey Shore, just as it did in New York then.

"What we have seen is way beyond accessible for people," said Lee Childers, a Normandy Beach land agent who has struggled to gain access to his holdings since much of the barrier island, from Bay Head to Island Beach State Park, has shut down.

For Childers, and from many others, the things you hear now are the same things you heard in New York, back 11 years ago:

This wasn't supposed to happen here.

In Childers's Bay Head office, water rose four feet high. In houses in Mantoloking, Ortley and elsewhere, the water lines wrap around the walls like string, just above the mold that's spreading throughout.

At the foot of the Mantoloking Bridge, a new inlet has nearly formed. Just a sliver of a sand bar is all that's left that keeps the Atlantic Ocean from completely merging into the Barnegat Bay.

Photos show a house still sitting in the bay, half submerged, sitting there as if it won't ever be drawn back in.

Much of Route 35 is what it was a century ago: A dirt road, with trees on either side tilting downward, giving the once busy road the look of what's 30 miles to the south and west: a classy beach resort morphed into the rustic Pine Barrens.

Utility poles are either broken in two, laying on the road or hanging, barely, on their wires.

In places like these, residents are allowed to return for a half-hour, if that. Some, like Bay Head, let them come back for longer. For others, like those in Toms River, the mantra is simple: Grab and go.

When they do it, many of them have to board buses to get there, and watch National Guard scampering around their neighborhoods, where bucolic storefronts now have red "Xs" slapped on their windows. They lose sight of the vision they once had of these places from just three months ago, where cars were lined up as they headed south, and kids rode their bikes, right up in their own line, in the summer.

When they get there, these full-time, part-timers must move quickly, and not just because they're being ordered to. They have to get what they need before it gets anywhere near being dark. Some pockets of neighborhoods don't have any street lights left.

At many places along the Jersey Shore, night falls before the sun sets.

I wrote about these houses once, in a book, "A Legacy of Madness: Recovering My Family From Generations of Mental Illness." My grandfather's family didn't have much money, but what little they could scrape up - or borrow - they paid for places like these.

They used to vacation here, because they were so far removed from the badness that was elsewhere. During the Great Depression, I wrote, Bay Head was a refuge, a place where men wore black jackets and ties, and women wore their fancy dresses, just as the rest of the world wore rags, or whatever was left in the charity pile.

Paintings from that time show men wearing their Sunday best while standing on the glistening sand. Women wore white dresses that gleamed in the sun. Few showed them actually bathing in the water, because they were too busy making small talk, and showing off in the sunshine.

In Bay Head, they pretended as though the Depression didn't exist. The sunny, shining world in front of them was what mattered to them, mostly.

Now the darkened remains of what's left, the ground zero of New Jersey's tourism economy, matters to everybody. The tall task of rebuilding will bring the light back, some say.

The only question left is, when will they see that glimmer of hope?

"There’s so much mystery," said Childers's son, Jeff.

Duffer November 17, 2012 at 11:37 AM
In every town there is a core group of locals who's only home is in these beach towns. I'm one of them. My home is standing but was flooded with nearly 4-feet of water. Personally I find it shocking that in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave" the gistoppo government will not let home owners access to their properties. That should never happen in this country. Require proof of residence, absolutely but no way on earth should these people be kept from their homes.
Uh, hurricanes happen all the time. November 17, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Totally agree, Annette. 9-11 and your beach house getting wet are not comparable. To do so is incredibly disrespectful.
Michael Brancato November 17, 2012 at 12:24 PM
Ok, first: I'm sorry you lost your home. That sucks. But you have to realize that the government is not keeping you from your home because they want to loot it, or to discriminate against you, or because of some other foul conspiracy. It's simply not safe to turn on the power or to let people in and out in the dark. There's raw sewage in the streets. The government is doing their job by keeping you and your neighbors safe until they can clean up the mess caused by you building your home in a place where you really should not have built anything in the fist place. By the way, comparing the government to the Gestapo (it's spelled "Gestapo", perhaps you should do a Google search and learn what you're talking about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestapo) is not only wildly offensive but absolutely and totally ignorant of who the Gestapo were and the horrors they perpetrated. Your tribulations here do not excuse such rude behavior.
Veronica Wheeler November 17, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Mother Nature will have her way no matter what we puny humans throw in her way.
sally cohen-alameno November 17, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Oh people, I honestly do not believe anyone means to compare this hurricane's aftermath with 9/11. To call a place "ground zero" simply means it's the *epicenter* of something, in this case where the storm did an incredible amount of damage. The folks in Staten Island or Breezy Point might argue with which town gets that dubious honor. Please don't forget that lives WERE lost because of this storm, too.
CSS November 17, 2012 at 11:20 PM
I've never been much of a Shore person, so I'm not very well informed about the area in general. Can anyone give a rough guess as to how much of the devastated area was occupied by locals as a primary residence? I do truly feel for those people - not only do they have the constant in-season tension of townies vs. outsiders going on, but I assume their employment mostly revolves around out of towners visiting. It is true that it's very risky to build on the shore, but coming from Florida, I'm well acquainted with the difficulty in persuading people otherwise. Hopefully the permanent residents can find something inland that will be safer from the next storm that comes, yet still be close enough to feel like they're at "home".
Joe Grasso November 17, 2012 at 11:25 PM
i agree
Joe Grasso November 17, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Life anywhere is like a roulette wheel.. you never know when your number will be up. A natural disaster can hit any part of the country. You don't have to be down the shore to get hit with a tornado, or an earthquake. At least with a hurricane, we all had ample warning that it was coming. Sad for those who chose not to get out of the way. Hurricanes, earthquakes, wild fires, tornadoes, lightning, blizzrds, mud slides and tsunamis are all products of nature that we all have to live with. We can't simply hide. We must all live our lives and make the best of it.
Don Smith November 18, 2012 at 12:10 AM
There is nothing like sleeping with the roar of the surf as a lulaby. Then there is watching the blood red full moon come out of the ocean. Unless you have lived there, unless you are a sailor you have no clew...
A pretender November 18, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Problem is not building. It is over building and that is what has happened at the shore. And ubfortunately the little towns like ocean city are full of realtors and developers who just want to make a buck. If only a mayor could be elected who could rise above this at some point and be less interested in the quick buck and actually care about the future. If only.
Hurricanes aren't terrorist attacks November 18, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Sally - Tom Davis who is clearly an incredible dim wit, directly compared the after math of September 11, 2001, the most heinous of terrorist attacks to a common natural phenomenon. i cannot even verbalize how Angry that makes me. The only reason there are not more comments to that effect is because no one else bothered to waste their time reading this amateurish attempt at journalism. Apparently they do not teach common sense and discretion at the local community college.
Todd M. Finchler November 18, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Thank you, Michael, for an intelligent and articulate post. I could not possibly agree more with what you typed - and how eloquently you typed it.
Don Smith November 18, 2012 at 02:32 AM
And what I fear is that they will not let me rebuild my simple beach bungalow but require me to build more.
JenniferB November 18, 2012 at 02:49 AM
I use to dig holes in the sand and nap in then. Drowned out the noise of people yet you could hear the ocean. :-) I grew up in toms river and after meeting my husband of now 11 years, moved to NW NJ. My heart aches for everyone down there, what they are going through and the damage done.
esther November 18, 2012 at 07:34 AM
I couldn't agree with you more. Guv Christie said that these towns will have to raise taxes to rebuild. Good let them raise their own taxes to pay for their rebuilding. They should not be able to charge more for using the beaches as a matter of fact if these towns would stop charging for people to sit on their beach for the day the visitors would spend more money in bars, restaruants, souvenir shops, etc... They want to live there then they should have to pay for it. Today I went to Ray Catena Mercedes Benz on Route 22 with a donation of water and was told by the manager that the donations currently in the van would be going to Staten Island because the shore said they had enough and didn't need any more. Fine by me. And don't wimper and moan about not being able to rebuild on the beach- or one block from the beach or four houses from the beach-. Didn't this storm teach you anything about the wrath of mother nature? You wanted the beach you got it right in your living room. Don't be so snobby live a little farther away and you and your house may survive another season. How about some of you vacation home owners help the owners of their ONLY house or the renters who were affected? Gimme a break.
esther November 18, 2012 at 07:39 AM
Yup- very true. Sandy was a natural disaster that all of those affected could have avoided if they weren't so caught up in how many houses from the beach they are. 9/11 was a terrorist attack- none of those affected could have avoided the attack-they were victims of a cruel, hate-filled terrorist group bent on the destruction of all things western- not so much a hurrican- and btw by the time it hit land in AC it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Think about that before you think about rebuilding. Maybe insurance should only cover owners who agree to relocation to homes further from the ocean.
Ricky November 18, 2012 at 07:43 AM
>> i cannot even verbalize how Angry that makes me<< friend, if you find yourself reacting this way to comments on-line, I'd either not go on line or just ignore this stuff as you'll cause yourself plenty of anguish, the internet's full of stuff that's not pleasant
esther November 18, 2012 at 07:44 AM
Sally-Sally-Sally- we all know what ground zero means to all Americans and it does not have the generic meaning you attribute to it any longer and hasn't for 11 years. Don't minimize the effects of 9/11 by adding insult to injury. A couple of hundred-not sure that many- lives were lost with this tropical storm-and that is sad- but comparing it to the thousands of lives lost on 9/11 is simply ignorant and simple.
esther November 18, 2012 at 07:45 AM
Agreed- oh and in Floriday the beaches are FREE.
esther November 18, 2012 at 07:50 AM
Your fear is that the powers that be will require you to follow building codes? Or build in a safer area? or further from the beach? That's your fear. Why isn't your fear that something like this will happen again and you won't be able to get out? My fear is that my taxes are going to go up because of people like you who can't take a hint from mother nature. How about using some logic?
Terry November 18, 2012 at 09:35 AM
It seems that beach lovers have real concerns after Sandy. It also seems deeply insulting to compare the damages of a hurricane to a terrorist attack that burned 3,000 Americans to death. A little perspective is in order here, and a lot less theatricality.
Duffer November 18, 2012 at 10:01 AM
In my town there are about 10,000 year round residents. In the summer it swells to about 300,000.
sally cohen-alameno November 18, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Esther, Here's an idea. Google my name....I'm your neighbor over here in Westfield. I know exactly the effects of 9/11. My husband and father of my then 2 and 5 year olds was killed that day. My comment was not ignorant or simple. To get "theatrically" bent out of shape because someone uses the phrase ground zero is disproportionate to me. When I see people who have lost EVERYTHING that they have worked for, who have lost their ONLY home and a job that's not coming back anytime soon, yes, that's a tragedy, too. They have lost their total way of life. Why would any of us begrudge someone's co-opting the term?
Joe Grasso November 18, 2012 at 01:13 PM
wow
Joe Grasso November 18, 2012 at 01:13 PM
it ws inevitable
S.G. November 18, 2012 at 04:42 PM
The only easy explanation that I could understand...from a law site: "The most common cause of transformer explosions is adverse weather. Lightning strikes can cause transformers to overload and explode. Sudden damage to transformers can also lead to overloads. Freezing rain and high winds can each cause tree limbs to break free, falling on transformers, and causing explosions. These explosions typically result in a bright green electrical arc, sometimes visible from several blocks away."
Irina December 08, 2012 at 03:31 AM
@@@@@TOS VIOLATION@@@@@
John M. December 08, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Was sagen sie?
Lucretia G. December 08, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Er spricht scheisse, nichts aber spam.
Stan Walker December 08, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Er ist ein Scheißkerl.

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