TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) — Bulldozers and buzz saws mingle with seagulls and the surf as the new sounds of summer in the first post-Sandy vacation season at parts of the Jersey shore.
While most of New Jersey’s beaches have been restored to their pre-storm state, beachgoers in some towns must still walk past lingering scenes of destruction from the Oct. 29 storm — and listen to the sounds of demolition and reconstruction as they sink their toes in the sand.
In the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, one of the hardest-hit sections of New Jersey’s coast, officials have managed to open only a small section of the beach and boardwalk that have drawn generations of families.
“Two doors down from me is being knocked down; the guy around the corner, he’s being knocked down,” said longtime resident Sonny Kulesa. “My next-door neighbor is lifting his house. There’s all kinds of noise. It’s not the kind of vacation it once was.”
Others say the sounds don’t bother them, that they’re grateful to have a beach to go to and sympathetic to those who lost homes.
Maria and Richard Chrobock of Jefferson Township in Morris County have been vacationing at Ortley Beach for 20 years, but this summer has been noticeably different.
“It’s a little depressing,” she said. “You walk past all the destruction. It’s such a sad situation. But the sand and the ocean are still here.”
“We wanted to do our part by still coming here,” her husband added. “You can still have fun here, and people need to know that.”
To be sure, at many beaches it appears as though nothing has changed from summers gone by — particularly in shore communities where the storm’s impact was less severe or those protected by robust dune systems. Scores of storm-wrecked homes have already been knocked down and the debris swept clear, leaving smooth sandlots in places that had stood as grim reminders of the storm’s fury.
In Point Pleasant Beach, a house destroyed by the storm at the entrance to a southern beach was torn down last month by heavy equipment, and concrete rubble from the smashed patio of a house across the walkway was recently hauled away. That beach now offers learn-to-surf classes for kids — something new this summer.
But the massive rebuilding job is still unfolding in other communities. Decks are being repaired, roofs fixed, new siding attached. Nails are being hammered, wood is being sawed and concrete is being bulldozed.
In Bay Head, mini-front-end loaders rented by oceanfront residents continue to rebuild dunes on the private property side of the beach, even as children play in the shadow of boarded-up beach houses still awaiting repairs or demolition. Bulldozers, cranes and other heavy equipment sit on vacant lots that once housed multimillion-dollar oceanfront homes.
Public works employees were still firing nail guns into boards on the Lavallette boardwalk last week. And in Mantoloking, the hardest-hit shore community, the emergency sand piles that borough work crews pushed up with bulldozers to protect against new storms are so high that beachgoers must climb steep sand paths up the sides of hills, leaving many panting at the top.
Beach revenue is down in many shore towns because of a combination of lingering damage to rental homes or apartments and exceptionally rainy weather in the first half of summer. But beach replenishment projects have been completed in some towns and are gearing up for the fall in others.
Ruthann Sodolski of Verona has visited Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch three times this summer, knowing it was in fine shape. But last week she ventured warily into Ocean County for the first time, dreading what she might see in storm-ravaged beach towns.
“I’d seen it on TV, but it’s so sad to see it,” she said. “I didn’t recognize things I knew down here. It looks so different.”
Sodolski said she still enjoys herself at the shore, particularly knowing that her patronage is helping hard-hit towns get back on their feet.
“They are absolutely determined not to give up and I want to help them,” she said. “This is still the shore, there’s still sand and there’s still the ocean.”
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