Hurricane Sandy’s Second Anniversary Has Been Harder Than the First

Two years later, we have a clearer picture of just how bad things are — and how much hard work remains.


I took the day off yesterday, putting up an out-of-office message so I could pop the windows out of my Jeep Wrangler and cruise down the shore. I stopped at the Ocean View Wawa for a sandwich and a bag of chips, then parked myself in a chair on the beach in Strathmere.

I spent most of the day reading a book, but I also did a lot of staring at the ocean. I told friends I hit the beach because I’m tapering for a marathon, and I’m full of edgy energy that has no outlet. But really, I was there because today is the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New Jersey, and I wanted to both pay my respects and thanks to the beach that survived, and deliver a giant middle finger to a storm that destroyed large parts of our Jersey Shore.

I’ve had a harder time with the two-year anniversary than the first. When a preview copy of Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy came in the mail, I took it right to my library’s donation bin. It’s more difficult now because we have a clearer picture of how bad things really are, not just in the immediate days after the storm where we could not stop looking at pictures of roads torn apart and houses shattered into splinters, but the inevitable mess that came after.

First, it was local talk shows saying that Jersey Shore homeowners didn’t deserve help because they were rich, claims that seemed to be made on the basis of experiencing the Jersey Shore at a friend’s Avalon mansion. Not everyone is like that, and the towns hardest hit at the North Jersey shore were largely middle class.

I say were because they aren’t anymore, at least not to the same extent. A lot of those people haven’t come back. The gentrification that rolled through places like Avalon and Stone Harbor and Cape May in the mid-2000s have accelerated in those towns, both here and north. After Sandy, those homeowners — whether a home was their full-time residence or a second home into which they poured all their savings — struggled. Some couldn’t get the right FEMA funds to recover. Others were stiffed by insurance companies who didn’t pay them enough to raise or repair their homes, or who waited so long to pay that homeowners gave up. Others couldn’t afford the price of new flood insurance. And others still were set upon by scammers who took their money and never did any work — a scam that’s still happening because people are still waiting for funds to fix their homes, oh, and because people are still awful.

Then there was the fight over federal aid for Sandy victims, a deplorable charade that turned people without homes into political footballs (and of course some of those congressman who voted “no” changed their tune when it came to asking for relief funds for their own states.)

And all that money we donated to the Red Cross and Sandy relief funds? It didn’t help as it should have, or as quickly as it should have. The Red Cross’ malfeasance is outlined in a new story that came out today from Propublica and NPR. The charity fund set up by Mary Pat Christie, Gov. Christie’s wife — a fund I donated to and raised money for — raised $32 million then sat on it (though it has now given out over $33 million.)

And then there were the scandals over tourism contracts and that awful “Stronger Than the Storm” song. I had to look at that slogan on the back of my car inspection sticker for a year, and wanted to smack it every time I got into my car.

Let’s not forget about the fight over dune building projects, either, dunes that would protect and save barrier islands during future storms. But they’re being opposed by people who don’t want to lose their pretty views.

This disaster brought out the best in a lot of people, but the worst in others. And still, the shore suffers. I was in Sea Bright a few weeks ago, a slip of a town that flooded from both the ocean and the Shrewsbury River. Condos are still boarded up, and almost everyone talked about whether or not Donovan’s will be back. A lot of people who ran in the Jersey Shore Half Marathon that day wore shirts in the classic bar’s honor. After visiting a friend whose house had been flooded almost up to the second floor (and has been repaired), I drove down Ocean Avenue through Long Branch and Deal and Asbury Park, past restaurants and shops and boardwalks that have re-opened but stand in stark contrast to homes that are still torn apart and buildings that are awaiting their fate, two years after the ocean rammed through them.

This is still hard, and I don’t see it getting any easier, not with the continuing march of climate change and rising sea levels that hang over these Jersey Shore towns like clouds before a summer thunderstorm. I had been planning to move to Asbury Park before Sandy, but now I’m not so sure. Not only have home prices surged, but there is the threat that the ocean will again become a destroyer during another disaster, one from which the shore will never recover.

On Sunday, I’m running the New York City Marathon, which two years ago was cancelled because of Sandy. To get to the start, runners are ferried to Staten Island, where residents have been taking buyouts for homes in flood-prone areas.

I don’t know if this is the answer for our shore towns. I don’t know if there is one answer.

But what I do know is I’ll still ditch work to enjoy beautiful beach days, for as long as I possibly can.

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