“The Ocean Has Changed Where It Is”

A Q&A with Jersey Shore advocate Jen Miller.

Normally, when we hear from Collingswood’s Jen Miller, she’s promoting her travel guidebook, Jersey Shore: Atlantic City to Cape May, or the nostalgic Down the Shore blog she writes for Newsworks. But since Hurricane Sandy rolled in and devastated much of New Jersey’s coastline, she’s taken a far more serious tone, taking to social media to offer important news updates, admonish those making jokes about the storm, and generally fight for the place she loves so much. I caught up with her to see where things are now that it’s stopped raining.

How did the storm affect you directly?
Not so much except that parts of my book are going to have to be rewritten. But I have a lot of friends down there. I have a friend who sent me pictures of her inventory decimated in Ocean City, a storefront on Asbury Avenue. She got three feet of water. And I have a lot of friends in Monmouth County who got hit really hard.

Things seem much worse up that way.
I have a friend who lives on the water in Little Silver, 15 minutes from Asbury Park, with no damage at all, and then someone who lives inland who can’t even get back to her house. I have another friend who is in Australia who lives in Sea Bright, and she can’t get any information about her house. These are largely year-round communities where people live full-time. They have jobs there. They have houses.

Chris Christie has been portrayed pretty heroically in the press. How do you feel about the way he’s been handling things?
His initial press conference about Atlantic City, yelling at the mayor and yelling at people who opted to stay—he didn’t present that situation correctly. A lot of those people were poor and couldn’t get out of the city. I’m definitely not a Christie fan, but things are being done that need to be done. The National Guard is being set up so that people can’t loot. Some of those beach towns, people can’t get back for a week or two weeks. Sandy Hook, people might not be able to get back until summer.

Have you made it to the Shore since the storm?
Yes. I hate to say we were lucky, because a lot of bayfront homes and businesses do have a lot of damage. But we were lucky. I was in Cape May and Wildwood. They are 100 percent open. There are no ID checks. No police blockades. Margate and Longport have opened, but Ventnor has not due to sewer issues. In Ocean City, if you have ID and proof of business or residency, you can get in. I am hoping that people can get back to the entire Shore soon and frequent the businesses.

Are people obeying the travel restrictions?
People are trying to get in by boat. There was an unconfirmed report that people were jumping in trash vehicles to get in to LBI. There are exposed gas lines. Some of these towns are not safe places to be, and the shelters are overwhelmed.

What’s the process for owners once the restrictions are lifted?
When the travel ban is lifted, contractors can get in. Tomatoes in Margate got five feet of water, but because of the travel ban, they couldn’t get anyone in there. Meanwhile, in Stone Harbor, Fred’s got three feet of water. And they are open now, because they were able to get people in and help them get their bar back together.

How can people help those in need?
Anyone who prepared for the storm who has extra bottled water, batteries and flashlights can contact the Red Cross to figure out how to get them to people who need them. There’s a group in Cape May that has gathered a bunch of extra supplies, and they are going to caravan them to a Red Cross shelter up north.

And as for those towns closer to us that have been affected, should we all jump in our cars and plan off-season Shore getaways?
Absolutely. There are going to be hotels and business open on every island. And they’re great around Christmas. Do a day trip. Go have lunch. There’s nothing like doing your Christmas shopping in Cape May. Even if you want to just see storm damage, go down and spend time at the Shore. Those people will really appreciate it.

Will you actually need to rewrite the book?
Not that much has to change. But up north, there are places that are absolutely gone. The ocean has changed where it is. The shoreline has changed. It’s not like the water is going to recede. There’s new ocean where houses and businesses were. It was worse than I could have imagined and the cleanup is going to be more than ever imagined.

[PHOTO: Marc Steiner/Agency NJ]