We continue our coverage of Hurricane Sandy with another look at the Belmar area. When you speak to beach town residents, the ongoing feeling is still one of suspicion when it comes to real timelines of rebuilding and regaining the quality of life they lost, but also one of encouragement for jobs well done by city, government and residential volunteers, who jumped right in to help in this continuing tale of aftermath triumph and tragedy. I spoke with musician and Belmar Elementary School teacher Tom Brennan, a member of Shore Blue, who tells us in his own words what happened and where it’s changed his life:

“My daughter’s birthday is October 29. This past fall was her first birthday away from the family. She had started her freshman year at college. In August, I dropped her and her brother off down in New Orleans, where they both go to school. Louisiana was promptly hit with Hurricane Isaac. Although it did not flood where my kids were, they spent three days without power. We were beside ourselves with worry. Little did we know…

After we got through the terror of the wind the night of 10/29, we woke to a changed world. Our home on 11th Ave. in Belmar did not get flooded, but like everyone else, we were without power. Worse, our boardwalk and beachfront were destroyed. The surreal feeling I get when I look at the pictures I took is hard to describe. Sometimes it feels like it happened to someone else.

Because I am a teacher at Belmar Elementary School, I was unable to work until power was restored and the building made safe for students. My wife, our youngest son, Sean, and I spent the next two weeks or so volunteering at Belmar Borough Hall. We pumped basements, cleaned mud, threw out memories destroyed by the storm, unloaded trucks and cars, gave directions to the FEMA office, tried to help people get what they needed.

As a teacher for more than 10 years, I was a familiar face to many of the children and parents that came to Borough Hall looking for help and information. My wife, a former borough council president, was in the same position. I hope it helped people to see a familiar face. It definitely helped me.

On the musical side, my band, Shore Blue, lost one of our favorite places to play. Like many of my colleagues at the Belmar school, I spend my summers working for the beach utility. For the past five years, I have been a badge checker at the 13th Ave. gate, next to the pavilion where Matisse Restaurant was located. I got to know owners Mary and Tony Wall, their kids and the whole extended family. The restaurant was truly a family affair. Nice people.

Three summers ago, Mary told me she was looking for a band to play Wednesday evenings on the back deck over the beach. “Do you know any bands?” she asked. “Well, of course!” We started the next week. Anyone who has played music overlooking the beach while the sun went down and sang while the moon rose out of the sea can tell you nothing else compares. We had some fabulous times performing there.

I saw Mary Wall two days after the storm. Everything she and her family had poured themselves into was gone. The 13th Ave. Pavilion was condemned. They had to get what they could—equipment, supplies—out of the building before it was knocked down at the end of the week. It was heartbreaking to see such a nice lady cry. Why did such evil things happen to such nice people?

When you look at the new boardwalk now, it looks fine. But there’s no sign of the buildings, nothing to reflect the memories and good times that were made there. It’s a weird feeling. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it.

I’m very proud of my town and the way we’ve been working to rebound from the destruction. Shore Blue has found a new gig at 10th Ave. Burrito on Sunday afternoons. The beach staff is ready to get to our new gates and start another season. We’ve worked hard with our students, some of whom are still displaced from their homes, to try to help them feel safe and to excel in their education. Things are good. But they’ll never be the same.”

 

The aftermath stories of Sandy will continue in our pages as we listen to the real situations that continue to be played out along the shore. Stay tuned next week as we visit more shore areas. If you have a story, please email me at john@theaquarian.com.

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