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 the Monmouth and Ocean County beaches

[This story was originally published in December 2012]

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.

Patty Edy November 18, 2012 at 05:49 AM
After Hurricane Andrew, we had no power for 5 weeks and no phones for 4 months. We did not evacuate and leave our property. We also heard rumors of dead that were kept secret. The Miami Herald even ran an ad that they would pay if anyone could give them any names. Rumors are not helpful! Be thankful.
Jersey Shore Mom November 18, 2012 at 01:47 PM
People were warned to leave- what warning did 911 people have?
Paul Anthony November 18, 2012 at 05:06 PM
find something more constructive with your life Ken and go help victims that are still alive instead of causing more anger and confusion with your personal nonsense.Not everything in life is a conspiracy.Get a life.
Paul Anthony November 18, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I agree with John.Well put.Lets move ahead like everything else .Tired of people creating more negativity.Need to keep moving foward in a positive manner.
Paul Anthony November 18, 2012 at 05:13 PM
hey everybody just stop posting for this guy and his 2 mins of attention will go away.He def has a lot of time to do nothing dont give him the attention.loser!!!
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 06:30 PM
ugh! that's just terrible to go through also. more terrible than this and my son is one of those who has place at shore
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 06:32 PM
yeah, i figure that the higher powers have more in store for the corrupt top notch clowns in the towns. too bad the innocent have to suffer along with them. and the corruption goes much deeper than anyone knows. we learn a little more each day, quite by accident, i might add. if the shore leaders don't wise up, or if they are not thrown out, arrested, whatever, i think more, yes, prepare....................
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 06:34 PM
you are absolutley correctamundo. let's see if the gentry will do so....some will try. others will stand on their own, or fall on their own. remains to be seen.
Jay Gee November 18, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Ken G November 19, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Obviously, i'm just telling you the info I was given. It's a shame how you've all acted. I know what I was told, and if you choose not to believe me than so be it. I've no reason to say this other wise. Instead of discussing it, you instead decided to go and reply with stupid comments about me. Also where did you get 1,000 bodies from? I NEVER said 1,000. Also, to those who said you saw no bodies...were you looting in people's houses? Thats the only way you could know 100% there were none. Therefore, those who went through walkthroughs of the towns and saw nothing on the outside do not proove there was or wasn't any deaths. The Suriviors know what they saw, and those who know the real count know it. There's nothing I can do for you to change your belief. I came in here to tell you info I recieved from suriviors and workers. Instead I got bashed from every angle. Everybody was effected by the storms, there's no reason to create "rumors".
A Resident November 19, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Hey Ken, the "people" that told you this info are getting a real good laugh seeing how gullable you are by posting your "facts" on the Patch. Thanks for doing your part in providing some humor for people. PS - Ya, I'm a survivor.
Ken G November 19, 2012 at 02:47 PM
You think it's funny that people died? It's humourous? no they aernt laughing. Why? Because they have NOTHING left. They rode out the storm in Seaside Heights and were trapped out there for several days. P.S- We all are.
Ken G November 19, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Logically do you honestly believe that people died in all the towns around Seaside but not a single person in Seaside did? You saw it on the news. there was people out there as the storm came ashore. You've seen the state the Barrier Islands are in....and you say NOT ONE, person did not pass away during the storm? The homeless, and addicts that stayed behind (yes, they are people too!), some who stayed behind in their houses...not ONE passed away? Even if it's just ONE, it needs to be reported.
bayboat November 19, 2012 at 03:11 PM
So go to the obituaries in the paper, find it and REPORT IT ALREADY! Unless they were buried in secret Fema funerals.
Project Bluebeam November 19, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Ken, you're too young to remember 9-11 so I'll enlighten you. People were missing and their loved ones were everywhere asking for info. Any info. They put up flyers, they formed support groups, they put ads in the papers. WHERE are all the family members of these "bodies" in Seaside? Where are the facebook pages dedictaed to finding the lost? Where are the tweets? The meetings? 7 on your side? Could it be that you were duped by a FEMA agent who was just messin' with a gullible kid? Or are you just perpetuating an unsubstantiated rumor you heard in the lunchroom?
Ken G November 19, 2012 at 07:06 PM
Too young to remember 911? I remember everything, don't compare sandy to 911.
bayboat November 19, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Ken G says "theres no reason to create rumors"....as hes spreading rumors. Also...in a rational, well thought out sentence...please explain WHY those who (supposedly) know the (supposedly) correct number arent talking. Explain WHY these "survivors" are keeping the ACTUAL number from their friends/neighbors/community. WHY are these "survivors" keeping the rest of us in the dark?
Project Bluebeam November 19, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Where are the grieving families of the "thousands" that perished?
Jesse James November 19, 2012 at 07:47 PM
911 was more than 10 years ago. get over it. more people die from being fat. stop spending tax money on monuments and other nonsense and stop letting the family of people killed there dictate what happens. If this guy tittel is correct the whole area will be under water in a few years anyway.
Project Bluebeam November 19, 2012 at 07:52 PM
You have a better chance of dying from the aftermath of the Yellowstone Caldera erupting.
bayboat November 20, 2012 at 11:19 PM
We all are what?
Ortley Joe June 27, 2013 at 08:02 AM
Is there a reason we are reliving this.
barry ingram June 27, 2013 at 04:49 PM
the place will return in about 5 to seven years it will be a long road
Resident of Lacey June 28, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Why did some one feel the need to bring this post back into the light? We are working to move past this painful experience not continue to relive it. I am still displaced from my home with no more answers now that I had then. The memories are still vivid visuals in my mind that I would like to forget. Tom, re-posting this at this time is very abusive to the victums that are still strugleing all this time later.
charlotte June 29, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Why reprint and not update. This is very confusing and completely unhelpful to those of us that are still living the nightmare - those on the Shore Not Restored.
charlotte June 29, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Reason - Politics has taken over Patch. There has been too much criticism. Anonymous?
charlotte June 29, 2013 at 09:07 PM
Oops I meant corrupt politics.
. July 01, 2013 at 07:00 AM
Charlotte, don't you just want to scream when you hear those "Stronger than the storm" commercials?
charlotte July 01, 2013 at 05:03 PM
LOL - I DO scream! I have to keep myself from hurling shoes at my television.


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