By Lauren Wanko
Heavy rain, high wind gusts and nearly freezing temperatures didn’t stop teams from working around the clock in Belmar today on recovery efforts since Sandy wiped out the boardwalk and flooded the town. But now over a week since Sandy made landfall, this seaside community is bracing for another storm.
Equipment operators were building up sand dunes in anticipation of the storm surge brought on by the nor’easter. Belmar officials say they are going to do everything they can to prepare for the next storm.
“We’ve also been draining our lakes to help reduce the amount of water we have in town,” said Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty. “After Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, we were completely saturated.”
Doherty says during the peak of the storm, teams pumped out 60,000 gallons of water a minute from the town back into the ocean. Equipment operators will continue pumping the lake through the nor’easter. Doherty says there is a sense of sadness throughout the community.
“We’re going to draw energy from those sad stories and strength that I believe that future generations will look back and say this was Belmar’s finest hour,” Doherty said.
On Main Street, Belmar’s gym is armed with supplies from volunteers — everything from first aid items to canned food to cleaning supplies to mountains of clothing. Belmar Councilwoman Jennifer Nicolay says the relief center is equipped with additional blankets and other items in anticipation of the nor’easter.
“It will get worse. I think it’s getting colder, I think people are getting desperate,” Nicolay said. “I’ve noticed in the past three days that it’s progressively gotten busier.”
Neptune resident Sheila Jones collected supplies at the relief center for senior citizens. “It’s a big help to the community because to see what it looked like out there now we don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring us,” she said.
Four-year-old Oliver Konopack donated items with his mom. He said he brought “some toothpaste.” When asked why it was important to bring items, he said, “because nobody had them.”
Nearby in Neptune, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Disaster Medical Assistance Team set up a field hospital.
“These are the types of bedding that we use,” said Incident Commander Robert Skertich. “We’re able to treat at any given time, usually about 30 to 35 patients. And what we’re doing here, this is what we call a decompression mission. And we’re taking the patients from the hospitals and the ambulance services that don’t require immediate, lifesaving care.”
The teams set up the tents about three days ago. Services are free to all patients. Randy Bishop, mayor of Neptune Township, says this community is ready for the next storm.
“We’re on standby. We know what we’re doing in terms of protecting our residents, protecting property,” Bishop said. “And we’re treating this as we always would but we realize that we’re a little more vulnerable and a little more concern because of what just happened with Sandy.”
As the day wore on and the rain turned into a steady snowfall, many residents in the shore communities wondered just how much more of Mother Nature’s fury they could take.