Meteorologists claim that the chances for a direct hurricane hit in New Jersey are around one in 200. When you really look at that number, the odds are good that one is coming. However, like many, I didn’t take them seriously this year. Most storms dissipate before they get to us and I just figured this would be another near miss rain storm. But this time, their forecast of the Fujiwhara effect came horribly true, and the unprecedented juggernaut hit us square in the face.
We’ve had bad storms before, including last year’s Hurricane Irene, a storm that eventually hit South Jersey as a tropical storm. But even that storm, which resulted in loss of property and over 47 deaths, wasn’t as powerful as Hurricane Sandy turned out to be.
Hurricane Sandy is the largest storm to ever hit the coast, dwarfing 1960’s Hurricane Donna by an extra four feet of flood waters alone. It covered over 1,000 miles and turned left into our coast with more ferocity than 1991’s famed “Perfect Storm,” a convergence of lethal contradictions based off of Hurricane Grace. Sandy is now said to be surpassed only by Katrina.
Many stories are coming from people about the way this storm has affected their lives. I’ve heard about the large areas that are without power, fuel, heat, and even food. But I’ve also heard about the first responders and everyday people reaching out to help strangers and neighbors survive this monumental nightmare, a nightmare that we’ll talk about for years to come.
People along the shore faced a horrific ordeal, and in some cases, lost their homes as well as their material possessions. Geographically speaking, some shore areas will never be the same again. But the important thing is that we are still here, and as a group, we will be able to put our lives back together.
Scott Stamper, owner of The Saint on Main Street in Asbury Park, told me that the club itself was safe, but that he and his girlfriend Meg didn’t fare so well at home. Their residence is located in Belmar, a badly devastated area, and the first floor of their home was flooded up to the second floor landing. Cabin cruisers and speed boats littered the street and yard like some bizarre scene out of The Day After Tomorrow. They were grateful to escape with their lives. When I spoke with Scott, he was resigned to immediately restoring the house. There was no bitterness or anger in his voice, only concern for neighbors and friends.
Kyle Brendle of The Stone Pony told me that there was some minor damage to the club, but all in all, the tough room miraculously withstood the weather and should be back on track by the time of this article. “I rode out Sandy while trying to move in to my new house on 11th Ave. in Belmar. We were very lucky that our street barely was affected by the wrath of the storm. At about 8 p.m. Monday, 10/29, a wall of water came crashing down our street and we were prepared to get the hell out of there. As we prepared to go, the water receded as fast as it came up—only it had chosen a new path. B Street became a raging river. Two blocks to the north, and two blocks to the south, all became flood zones. We had one of the few clear paths to the Belmar Oceanfront. I watched in amazement when the convoys of work vehicles, dump trucks, earth movers and emergency help poured through the town down our street. My heartfelt thanks go out to all the people who have been working so hard to help all those in need. In comparison, somehow, someway, The Stone Pony came through the storm intact—and we are gearing up to rock!” The Stone Pony opened their doors back up on Friday, Nov. 9.
Greg Macolino, owner of The Brighton Bar, also weighed in by text last week on the storm: “I'm happy to report that The Brighton Bar has come through the Sandy onslaught slightly bloodied, but definitely not disemboweled. This is truly a fortunate and grateful result when you consider The Brighton Bar is a mere two blocks away from the ocean. This most spectacular miracle can be easily explained by the geographical makeup of the West End section of Long Branch. The highest natural bluff from Florida to Maine is West End, which is why Long Branch was a most desired spot as America's first and foremost renowned resort town, where the elite of NYC, Broadway celebrities, and seven presidents chose as their vacation destination. Damage to the bar consists of a five inch diameter hole in our roof, loss of shingles, some other small issues. Right now, [we’re] just waiting on the power to be turned on. All in all, we were extremely fortunate. As for the status of the music, we had to cancel many shows, which hurt us, as well as other clubs economically, but we will be up and running this weekend.”
I spoke with guitarist/songwriter Freddie Fry, who told me that while they were without power, they were among the lucky ones that had not lost their home. He told me that he was sitting by candlelight, strumming this little $13 guitar that he had bought from an old gentleman down the street at a yard sale last week. That neighbor’s home was now underwater. During this dark and powerless period, that guitar became a special, lifelong reminder of just how blessed he actually was. Fry says, “I’ve played it more than ever; it has a special memory and purpose tied to it. And sitting here, I wonder, ‘Did I save this guitar? Or has it in fact saved me during all of this?’”
Lindsey Miller and Keith McCarthy from The Sunday Blues told me of their rooftop skylight collapsing under the force of the wind and rain, bringing walls of water down into their home as they desperately moved to hustle precious stringed instruments to safety. They escaped with their lives, but lost many of their prized possessions, including Lindsey’s car, which was completely flooded during the night.
Even though so many have lost so much, the overall theme I’m hearing is one of gratitude and grace under pressure. I’ve witnessed a few angry idiots that we had to mollify at the gas pumps and convenience stores throughout my area, but the Shoreworld crowd has been relatively focused on helping each other and the community at large.
Hurricane Sandy has also focused the world on coming to the aid of New Jersey. The sky roared with C-17 Army transports, delivering California-based Edison electric trucks to help restore power, and soldiers from the National Guard to provide humanitarian assistance. NBC’s live taping of “Hurricane Sandy: Coming Together,” came together fast and demonstrated a highly organized sense of action. Moreover, while the live performance featured big stars such as Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Billy Joel, it raised over 23 million dollars. All throughout New Jersey, local musicians are joining the fight, going in headfirst and doing what they can for all of us.
Singer-songwriter James Dalton had this to say about his ordeal and how it was handled: “After spending the night of the storm stranded in a house surrounded by several feet of water, a noxious oil spill and getting the news that not only has your hometown gotten trashed, but my family’s shop in Bay Head was decimated as well, I knew that there was nothing I could do about any of this and that I just had to accept it. I also realized that all I had left to offer was music. I mean, no shovel of mine could dig out so much sand and no back of mine could carry so much wreckage. So I got into my social media sites and musical networks and found out that a restaurant called Firefly in Manasquan was opening as a soup kitchen. The first day I played by myself and by the next day, I gathered some musicians and we set up a little concert. Shortly after, I noticed a little spark had started with others and that music was starting to spring up in all those places here at the Jersey Shore. We are all rallying for our friends, families and neighbors the best way we can, and I feel a little more positive, maybe even ready to rebuild.”
That’s actually a valid feeling and one that’s being backed up all over the shore as residents organize town meetings and move into overdrive to help people get their hands on necessities. Grassroots groups doing good include Restore The Shore, a locally manned Facebook group whose focus is to provide and pass along information to those who need it while enlisting those who can help out physically. I’ve also been reading page after page about how people are chipping in to lend a hand where they can. The slogan “Jersey Strong” is proving to be quite true.
Unfortunately, there is also some bad news popping up involving looters. I’ve spoken to several people who tell me that they’ve witnessed these vile creeps and that it’s a real problem. I watched a video of a woman in Pleasantville catch a woman crawling under a broken section of wall trying to get into her kitchen. There are other stories about Toms River residents barricading streets with plywood and metal, turning away strangers headed to the bay for god knows what.
Belmar residents have reported incidents of robbery after the storm, but police have been unable to confirm that so far. The attorney general assures us that it’s not a huge issue and that it’s being dealt with. At a recent news conference with Gov. Chris Christie at the State Police Regional Operations Intelligence Center, Attorney General Chiesa said, “We have been in contact with all the county prosecutors to make sure they have the resources they need from us.” So plans are in place to deal with this horrendous act, but it still adds extreme insult on top of injury. At a time of crisis like this, the fact that our fellow state residents would take advantage of others is unthinkable and won’t be forgotten.
The effects of this storm stretched up and down the coast and even New York City could not withstand the wrath of Sandy. Singer-songwriter Lili Roquelin lives in the city and is a constant visitor to our clubs here at the shore.
She tells me, “My neighborhood is elevated, but I was so worried about my friends—like the one in Hoboken whose last text message Monday night was, ‘I have to turn off my phone, there’s no power and water is coming down the street.’ Half of Manhattan was without power, the trains were shut down, and I couldn’t go below 34th Street, but friends stayed in touch with me and shared their experience. The water came up to the roof of the cars that were parked on the streets and their owners found them filled with mud. Buildings with elevators not functioning left the elderly helpless and their neighbors brought them food. I think the city might give the impression that people living here are often in a hurry, rushing and unfriendly. When something terrible as this happens, we really come together to help others. I love New York even more for that.”
Author and musician Bebe Buell also checked in to share her empathy and faith in our tough little state. “Ever since I first went to the Jersey Shore, Asbury Park, in the 1970s, the area has held a special place in my heart. Todd Rundgren took me here and seeing him play on the boardwalk was always a beloved event during our relationship. When I returned to the NYC/NJ area in 2007, my ties grew even stronger. I also began to play shows in the shore venues. The Stone Pony, The Brighton Bar, The Saint, and my stays at the Berkeley Carteret have never stopped over the years. We spent our 10th wedding anniversary in Bay Head at the home of Dave & Lexi Bryan, and the news of the devastation there [the Bryan’s shore home, along with most of their neighbors homes, was destroyed] has left me heartbroken and oddly helpless. My heart goes out to all of those living down there affected by this tragic attack from Mother Nature. The rebuilding and cleanup has begun and I have to believe in my heart that the Shore will return better than before! My soul is with the people of New Jersey and our iconic Shore.”
She’s right, and that’s a perfect way to leave this. We will return better than before. I’ve heard people say that, “It’s not easy. The whole area is so somber, so quiet, and so different.” But as I read the updates and information on Facebook, I can’t help but feel that this “New Jersey Katrina” has refocused our community on the most important things we possess as a group of empathetic humans.
It’s never going to be the same as it was, but some day “different” might be better than you could ever imagine. The caring, the volunteering, and the solidarity that I’ve seen, throughout the music community and beyond, seems to be a permanent part of who we are now, and that realization will speed the rebuilding of a community that’s increasingly strong. Jersey Strong.
If you still need assistance as of this printing, there are several organizations to turn to still. Check out Restore The Shore at restoretheshore.cowerking.com, or go to nj211.org/hurricane.cfm, ready.nj.gov, or redcross.org.