Note: Scroll through the gallery above for footage from the Jersey Coast. All photos by Gary Caputi.
On the evening of Monday, October 29th, Hurricane Sandy came ashore and laid claim to the title of the worst storm to hit New Jersey in recorded history, period! It arrived at high tide on a full moon with 95 mph sustained winds and gusts to 115, pushing a colossal tide surge as high as 14 feet into low-lying coastal areas leaving behind a trail of devastation that was beyond comprehension. From Raritan Bay to Cape May no shore or bay front communities escaped Sandy’s wrath and in many the destruction was complete.
I prepared my home, luckily three miles inland and not in a floodplain, on Sunday and headed to Garden State Marina in Point Pleasant where my center console was already getting pelted by the rain and increasing winds from the approaching storm. Most marina patrons had their boats hauled and blocked, but I opted to double the lines, add some bumpers and keep it in the slip. Old timers taught me that your boat is safer in the water and she was tied to a floating dock that could rise 12 feet above mean high tide. When I returned the next morning just before sunrise, the town and marina were devastated, but my venerable Mako was riding high and unscratched while dozens of boats that were on blocks were pushed into a big pile and dozens more had simply floated away, coming to rest at various places along the banks of the Manasquan River.
Back in the car, I started picking my way through flooded streets strewn with debris. There were boats everywhere, on railroad tracks, golf courses; dozens were left high and dry. On Broadway, one of the main roads leading to the boardwalk, there were boats all over the road, in parking lots and pushed through store windows. Marinas were trashed, tackle shops where I purchase bait and gear from people I call friends were underwater. Wires and trees were down everywhere and I had to drive around things, like a 10-ton walk-in freezer from one of the restaurants that was pushed 50 yards out into the middle of a street.
I was lucky that my house was undamaged even though trees were blown down all over the neighborhood. I spent the next week caring for relatives and helping friends whose houses and cars had been flooded and boats washed away. The bay and river were choked with all manner of floating detritus to the point of being unnavigable, but on the Sunday after the storm I took the Mako out Manasquan Inlet and did a slow run down the beach to Seaside Heights taking pictures of the destruction along the beach. With tears in my eyes, I shot image after image of hundreds of beach homes destroyed. Some were pushed off the beach, coming to rest blocks away on the main road, Highway 35 while others were piled in ruins.
I photographed dozens of smoldering piles of ash that had been houses and the remains of the iconic Seaside Heights amusement piers, where nearby each fall we jig striped bass, bluefish and even see bluefin tuna cavorting within sight of shore. The beach had been reduced to a strand in many places and the Army Corps was busy filling in a new inlet that had been cut through five blocks of homes in Mantoloking where the ocean breached the bay, exacerbating the storm surge farther inland.
The experience has been humbling. I have so many friends and colleagues whose lives have been affected. There are real concerns about the ability of many of the homes ever being rebuilt, or whether the thousands of people whose livelihoods revolve around boating and sport fishing will survive this major economic impact to businesses already weakened by years of a fragile and stagnant economy. Only time will tell how they will fare and I hope to be able to report back to you in a couple weeks with more on their plight. Interestingly, not a week after the storm, several of the local headboats were running trips, although without the typical crowds that would be lining up to board for our typically-great fall fishing. That they were running at all is a sign that fishermen are a resilient breed and many refuse to let things like storms get in the way of being on the water. We will see.