Sandy had come to Jersey and crushed, but her monster footprint is shrinking.
The second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, after Katrina, punched its way up the Northeast coast, causing nearly $37 billion worth of damage in New Jersey, according to a November report from the governor’s office. The hurricane resulted in 117 total deaths, based on American Red Cross figures; destroyed or damaged 346,000 housing units; and affected 75 percent of the shore’s small businesses. About 2.5 million cubic yards of sand and debris choked roads and waterways. Hundreds of residents had to wait weeks before they could return home to assess the wreckage and their personal losses.
Details: Jersey Shore
The shore’s tourism industry is crucial, despite its short season of a few sunny months. In 2012, it earned $19 billion in revenue, but this year’s forecast is less rosy: A January report by Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy estimates a $950 million loss during the peak beachgoing period of July through September.
“Tourism pays for everything,” said Ron Bernknopf, who runs the Colony Motel in Seaside Heights with his wife, adding that occupancy is down 20 percent.
But time, plus money, heals. Eight months (and $6.8 billion in federal aid) later, New Jersey’s beach towns are wriggling back to life. Over Memorial Day weekend, the psychological start of summer, Gov. Chris Christie heralded the triumphant return of the oceanside destination. Someone pressed play on the sunbaked anthem “Stronger Than the Storm,” then left it on a continuous loop. This summer, we’re not surfing with the Beach Boys, “we’re resilient, we’re Jersey-tough, we are stronger than the storm.”
Catchy ditty, for sure, but sunbathers can’t cop a tan on perseverance, resolve and good intentions. We want silky strands and restored boardwalks, hot funnel cakes and frozen cocktails. We need the Jersey Shore to be operational and functional, and back in full-on beach party mode. We’ll take that song, but mix it with Pitbull, please.
To determine the Garden State’s state of readiness, I retracted the top on the convertible and followed the salty scent of sea to the Jersey Shore. I started on Long Beach Island, slightly north of the hurricane’s landfall, and drove along the coast until I hit the long toe of Sandy Hook’s Gateway National Recreation Area. Along the route, I looked for vestiges of the hurricane, but in many places, Sandy was a nobody.
Hit or miss on LBI
Sandy was a fickle beast.
In New Jersey, the storm unleashed its greatest wrath upon Monmouth and Ocean counties, in the central coastal region. Although the hurricane clawed some areas, it barely nipped at others. For instance, Long Branch lost its boardwalk (on the docket for expansion anyway) and 50 yards of beachfront, significant damage yet minor when compared with the devastation its northern neighbor, Sea Bright, suffered.