Sandy has taken an enormous toll on communities up and down the Jersey Shore, destroying homes and businesses, tearing up boardwalks and eroding beaches. As people try to get back to normal, there’s a growing sense that it will be a new normal, at least of some areas of the shore.
Atlantic City sustained a near-direct hit from Sandy, but Saturday night, just a day after a mandatory evacuation order was lifted, business downtown seemed to be mostly back to normal and the casinos had reopened.
But the rows of slot machines were largely empty, and out on the boardwalk, there was hardly a soul in sight.
The same could be seen on the boardwalk. Brent Rivers, who works the night shift as a rolling chair operator — or push-powered taxis — said after Hurricane Irene last year, tourists seemed to come right back, but this time is different.
“With this storm, this is the deadest I’ve ever seen it,” he said. ‘There’s a lot of things that should be going on here tonight but, like, most of the shows got cancelled just because of the weather and there’s nobody here. And the only reason people aren’t here is because they’re misinformed.”
Misinformed, Rivers said, about the extent of the damages in Atlantic City. While some neighborhoods on the bay side of the island got flooded, the tourist area escaped mostly unharmed, and the only part of the boardwalk that was damaged was a small section on the north end that most people never visited anyway.
But Atlantic City’s problems pale in comparison to places like Belmar, New Jersey, where the storm’s effects will be much more long-lasting.
Kim Balestrino spent the day cleaning out her flooded apartment on the beach, across from piles of sand and lumber where a boardwalk once stood. She said she can’t even begin to calculate all that the storm took from her.
“The way the boardwalk was, the way the people were, the way the businesses were, like the pizza place, DJ’s, just…everything down here,” she said. “Our little restaurants that we know from town are all destroyed. So yeah, it can be rebuilt. And yes, it can be brand new, and it’s gonna be ‘un-new,’ but it will never be the same as we remember it.”
Further up the coast, Annette Goff was venturing out to the water’s edge in Asbury Park for the first time since the storm. She moved to the shore from Brooklyn three decades ago and fell in love with the idea of living in a place where she felt like she was on vacation all the time. For her, it’s not the physical places that make the shore, well, the shore.
“It’s the people that make it. So I think the memories and everything…we’ll make new memories,” she said. “It’ll come back. I know it will. We’re tough. “
But, she added, people might want to reconsider beach front property in the future. After all, she said, you can’t fight Mother Nature.