Ortley Beach residents knew it was bad. In the two weeks after Hurricane Sandy, they scoured YouTube for videos from those who waited out the storm or found a way onto the barrier island. They e-mailed links to aerial photos of homes washed into the street like driftwood. They read Mayor Thomas Kelaher’s description of Ortley as “ground zero” for storm damage.
But until they packed into buses on Wednesday, escorted by Toms River police, they didn’t fully comprehend just how bad bad could be.
“These people are going to a very dangerous environment,” said Capt. Bruce Burgess of the Toms River Police Department. “It looks like a war zone. Ortley Beach was hit very, very badly. It you go up the next town up—Lavallette—it looks like they had a rainy day.”
Ultimately, when the surge came, Ortley Beach took the brunt of Sandy. And when Sandy pushed out, she left behind compromised roads, flooded homes, debris and mounds and mounds of sand.
Safety has been the focal point of Chief Michael Mastronardy’s phased re-entry plan, according to Burgess. On Wednesday, only residents in the section of Ortley from Route 35 North to Route 35 South were allowed to return for a few hours to collect necessary belongings. Other sections will open up to more property owners as they are deemed safe.
Morristown resident Jens Velasquez lined up outside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Center in Bellcrest Plaza on Fischer Boulevard Wednesday morning to receive a bus pass and an access badge for the Barrier Island issued by the Toms River Police Department. Velasquez, who owns a second floor condo on Route 35 North near Eisenhower Avenue, said he didn’t expect to see much damage to his property but knows it will be difficult to view familiar summer spots like the Surf Club, the FunTown Pier, and parts of the Seaside boardwalk battered out of existence.
“Everybody kind of feels like Gov. Christie does. If you’re not a shore person, you’ve been there,” Velasquez said.
One of the more familiar Ortley Beach sights was that of the towering lumberjack on Route 35 North in the Barnacle Bill’s Arcade and Mini Golf, which just completed its 50th season this summer.
Jo Ann Petruzel, who owns the popular family arcade, ice cream shop and restaurant with her husband Bill, said she isn’t sure yet if Barnacle Bill’s will open for summer 2013.
“I hope we can salvage the summer, part of the summer, or at least part of the business for the summer,” Petruzel said. “It’s just a matter of when things are deemed safe that we can get in here with crews and construction.”
Flood waters rose seven feet, tossing around heavy skee ball machines inside the arcade, Petruzel said. A neighbor’s home floated onto the miniature golf course. Rebuilding will take time, but the Petruzels do want to rebuild.
“It’s almost like we owe it to the community and the vacationers that we should get it together,” Petruzel said.
However how long it will take for those full-time and summer residents to return and rebuild remains undetermined. Many residents required the assistance of Toms River police to access front doors blocked by debris or warped shut. Once inside, even those midway between the bay and the ocean found water lines four feet high.
Ortley Beach residents may have finally gotten answers to as to how their properties fared during Sandy. But with those answers come more questions about the road ahead.