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Remembering Superstorm Sandy

Superstorm Sandy crashed into New Jersey about a decade ago on Oct. 29, 2012, and was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record according to the National Weather Service. The enormous system was part hurricane and part nor’easter with winds up to 115 mph, making it a Category 3 storm near Cuba, and a Category 1 storm with 80 mph winds near Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The term “superstorm” is a combination of all factors of a former hurricane such as wind, rain, size, and storm surge; hence, Sandy is referred to as “Superstorm Sandy” rather than “Hurricane Sandy.”

Ten years later, Monmouth County officials, first responders, and residents have revisited the natural disaster in the documentary film, The Jersey Storm: Sandy in Monmouth County. Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute (UCI) and Department of History and Anthropology hosted the premier of the film at Pollak Theatre on Friday, Oct. 28. The screening aimed to examine the natural disaster from a wide range of historic, economic, and environmental perspectives.

Directed by New York Emmy- Award winner, Adam Worth and produced by Monmouth County Clerk, Christine Giordano Hanlon, The Jersey Storm features never-before-seen footage taken of Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath, in addition to interviews with the Monmouth County officials, first responders, and residents who survived its threat.

The film begins with the Former Mayor of Asbury Park, Ed Jonson, recalling life before Sandy.

He started, “Two years before Sandy (2010), the week before Labor Day, Hurricane Irene slammed Jersey, and it was the first direct landfall storm.” Though Irene was never considered a Category 1 storm, it caused some tidal flooding and about 11 inches of heavy rain. Jonson recalled that as a result, people were not too worried when Sandy was approaching.

Shaun Golden, Monmouth County Sheriff recalled, “The residents didn’t take it seriously. We had people who didn’t want to evacuate because they wanted to stay home. When Sandy hit, there was nothing left to do but watch the storm roll over the county.”

Superstorm Sandy impacted seven counties within Monmouth County; fortunately, there were no casualties.

“As the storm got closer, people started to change their minds about evacuating and those who wanted to leave, left. But in the midst of Sandy, we have received about 811 9-1-1 calls, which was a record number that families were being affected and needed to be rescued,” stated Golden.

Sheriff Golden evacuated 72,000 residents, placed them in shelters, providing a place to sleep, rest, eat and drink. By the time Sandy reached winds that were between 40-45 mph, all evacuations and rescues were put to a halt, and all first responders were sent back to their stations.

People who chose not to evacuate and stay in their homes stockpiled food, brought generators and chain saws, taped windows, and threw sandbags in the basements to prevent flooding.

The film highlighted a valuable lesson learned from Superstorm Sandy: how fast water comes. The inlets around the Jersey shore caused the water to rise higher, eventually leaving disastrous debris all over the coastline. Most notably, the Jet Star roller coaster collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean, off of Seaside Height’s Casino Pier.

“The devastation that Sandy left was much more horrible than we thought. There was so much debris that you couldn’t walk down the street. There were cars, puddles, and liquor bottles everywhere, there were even fish swimming around at people’s feet and I think there was more sand on Ocean Avenue than the beach,” Mayor of Union Beach, Charles Cocuzza, said.

Former Mayor of Sea Bright, New Jersey, Dina Long, discussed the damages that Sandy left.

She remembered, “When the storm was over on Monday morning, the highway was filled with sand and debris up to about my chest.” The water level reached its highest point of 13 feet above the normal tide level.

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy was a bigger problem than the storm itself. Around 92 percent of residents (approximately 500,000 people) of Monmouth County, had no electric power. Local residents lost power for about 10 days, while others lost power for 16 days. In addition to home damage and major flooding, gas stations had no generators to pump gas and the ATMs were out of order. Unless people had cash, they could not get gas.

Nonetheless, despite the aftermath of Sandy, the community came together and supported one another by creating pick-up points all over the county to drop off food, water, diapers, and other basic supplies.
“There was even a group of kids who rented a U-Haul truck because they wanted to cook to help feed people,” explained Cocuzza.

While students were out of school due to continued power outages, Monmouth County residents spent days delivering food, water, and additional necessities to others impacted by the superstorm.

Before Sandy, Monmouth County was known for its array of small, beach bungalows. But after, all homes were required to be above base flood elevations and turned into three-story elevated single homes. Superstorm Sandy’s remodeling activity appeared to return to normal around eight months later.

However, it wasn’t until nearly two years after Sandy hit that people were reimbursed for their homes and an additional year that homes were being rebuilt.

Thomas Herrington, UCI Associate Director, reinforced the idea of how Monmouth County overcame the aftermath of Sandy by installing a “beach fill project.” “For years, we have been studying the movement of sand along the coast, how it changes over time, and how it changes its ability to withstand storm damage. We do this by taking sediment from offshore and pumping it onto the shoreline, elevating it to about 10 feet. By doing this, it widens the beach and builds a sand dune, so it protects what’s behind the dunes and restores the natural coastal lands,” Herrington said.

Nearly five years after Superstorm Sandy plunged the iconic Jet Star coaster in Seaside Heights, a new replacement rollercoaster, called the Hydrus, was built. Rather than being built over the water like Jet Star, the new coaster was built above the beach to prevent another catastrophe from occurring.

Because of Sandy, officials believe that Monmouth County is better equipped to handle potential future natural disasters. Golden concluded, “It reinforced everyone’s sense of community, their pride, how children handled it, and the ability that anyone can make a difference. You just have to try.”