By Lauren Wanko
It looks like a war zone in Seaside Heights. On the way into the ravaged beach community, we could never prepare ourselves for the destruction we were about to see.
Boardwalk rides now in the sand being washed away by the tide. Nothing was spared by Sandy. Every ride is ripped to pieces, spread across the shore, much of it getting carried out to sea. Boardwalk shops now stand without any foundation, hanging by a thread to just a few boardwalk planks. Signs are torn to the ground and debris is everywhere.
Thomas Boyd, chief of police for Seaside Heights, said the situation is under control. “I have police cars out there. We are patrolling,” he said. “I actually have 15 to 20 police officers on foot patrol.”
The Seaside Heights police chief says it’s hard to determine how many people are still in the beach community. Boyd says there may be three or four people unaccounted for.
“In a catastrophe such as this, we’re always thinking there’s a body,” Boyd said. “That’s why I was on the phone last night with Attorney General Jeff Chiesa and that’s why we have the prosecutor’s office over there right now going door to door.”
The police department says seaside heights is cut off and they don’t know when people will be able to get back to their homes although they predict it won’t be there for a while. Frustrated homeowners were looking for answers this morning.
“We have no idea. We’re the only part of the state that can’t get to our homes because we live on an island and you’ve got a choke point here to keep us from getting to the island,” said one man. “Everybody else can find out whether they have their house or not.”
Boyd stressed that the reason for the delay is safety. “It’s the gas lanes we’re scared of,” he said. “We’ve got the gas company trying to shut the gas lanes off. We have specialists there right now that know what they’re doing. I don’t care about a house. I’d rather care about your life. That’s what I care about. Life first. You can rebuild a house. You can’t rebuild a life.”
Today equipment operators work around the clock to move the six foot sand drifts that blocked roadways. Back on the beach, Helen Stewart who operates one of the boardwalk arcades, saw the damage for the first time. It brought her to tears.
“No more boardwalk. I know it’s going to be rebuilt because that’s just the kind of place this is. No one’s going to give up,” Stewart said. “It’s going to make everybody stronger and we’re all going to rebuild and it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.”
Boyd said, “That pier is the lifeblood of seaside heights.”
Not much is left of the boardwalk on the beach at Seaside Heights. The roller coaster wound up in the Atlantic Ocean.
“Everybody look out at that roller coaster and tell you if it doesn’t remind you of 9/11,” Boyd said. “We’re not even close to the devastation that those people had but for a small community such as Seaside Heights … to see their whole livelihood crash into the ocean it’s devastating.”
The question everyone wants to know is how long it will take to rebuild this community. And that’s something no one can answer at this point.