On New Jersey's barrier islands, most residents are leaving
A few locals remain to see out Hurricane Sandy
Rising water breaks through dunes and floods streets
Anthony Duszczak cast an eye towards the roiling sea and shrugged. “We’re staying, we’re local. We’ll figure it out.”
His dad, Wayne, feels the same. “You don’t get to see many things here normally – everything’s pretty boring,” he says.
Not boring today, though, and it will be less so in the hours ahead.
Wayne, 62, is a retired field technician for Verizon. He lives here year round and feels safe.
“We’ll be fine,” he tells me. “If it floods, I’ve got a boat, and if we need to get out quick I’ve got a big truck.”
Anthony, 20, was born on the island and has lived here his entire life. “I’m a surfer and the waves are normally good after a storm,” he says as the wind whips down their street, shooting stinging nettles of rain into our faces.
“It’s pretty crazy but I’m sure we’ll be OK.”
We’re on Ortley Beach on New Jersey’s barrier islands – one of the frontlines awaiting the official arrival of Sandy. Packed with vacationers during the summer months, it’s quieter this time of year. Most of those who remain are retired, or tourism workers taking some down time.
If our few hours there showed Sandy’s warm-up, her actual arrival might make Wayne and Anthony Duszczak regret their decision to stay.
Hours ahead of the worst of the weather, sea water cascades down residential streets. Debris is already piling up on side streets, some of it jetsam from the ocean, some of it washed from front yards.
Down the road at the Joey Harrison Surf Club, a local landmark, damage is already being done. The outside wooden deck is gone, the railings too, and the surf that is normally at least 50 yards away across the beach is rolling inside the club.
A door is shattered, hanging by its hinge, the floor sodden, and members’ faces long.
“This could be worse than 1962,” says one of the club managers, Gordy Mack. “If it’s like this now, who knows what it will be like tonight.”
Gordy is one of those planning to stay through the storm.
As we speak, one of the biggest waves of the day smacks into the concrete patio and spills over us as we run inside. The wave follows us. More to clean up tomorrow.
Local police chief Mike Mastronardy says emergency workers have done what they can.
“We’ve had the mandatory evacuation order out and most folks have gone, but some are determined to stay,” he says.
“But I’m worried. The sea has broken through the dunes in several places and we’re not even close to the worst of this.”
The vast majority of residents have heeded the call to leave, and there’s a ghost town feeling. Those who have ignored the advice to leave are hunkered down.
Not far away we find Joe Lewis taking a cell phone video of the sea coming over the dunes and coursing down a street.
“I’m not staying – it’s a little ridiculous,” he says. “I want to be able to live through this.
“It’s pretty bad. I was talking to one of my friends who was here in 62 and he’s leaving, so…” Joe heads to his car to leave the island, leaving his unfinished sentence to speak for itself.
We head back across the bridge to the mainland. “Glad you got back,” says one of the police officers who’s helping block access the other way. “Gonna be a long night.”