Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy in Cape May

H. Sandy clouds still over the Delaware Bay

Gladys with the Storm at Sea quilt
I started Hurricane Sandy Week just outside Trenton, predicting that if the storm was as bad as the weather forecasters were saying, I wouldn't see work on Monday or Tuesday. The hurricane, they said, would join forces with a Nor'Easter and a cold front, and as the week went on H. Sandy was predicted to make landfall at my original home of Cape May, New Jersey. The hurricane winds were frightening and brought with them strange noises (trees and limbs falling), and finally, darkness. I had candles and flashlights ready and pep-talked myself into making the best of the situation. We ran the generator from time to time creating intermittent power and wifi, but that thing takes a lot of gas and makes a lot of noise. I was able to gather some news from those few hours of television news and 3G social media sources. It turned out that the Central Jersey, Staten Island, and Lower Manhattan coasts took the full force of the storm, while Cape May was largely spared. My work was closed all week because the hurricane traveled inland and wreaked havoc in Bucks County and other southeastern Pennsylvania locations. This was a blessing for those of us sitting on couches without power as the shocking images of the Jersey Shore became public. 

I shared on Facebook whatever news of Cape May I could find since almost everyone who knew I had a connection there was asking how we fared. Exit Zero and Cape May Times turned out to be the most reliable and informative. This was impressive: the staff of Exit Zero offered to email photographs for properties for homeowners who couldn't get away to check on them.They must have understood the anxiety we face owning a beloved, memory-filled home so far from where we live.  Slowly it became apparent that although there was some flooding, some damage, and a whole lot of sand piled up in town, Cape May did pretty well. At the same time, though, we were seeing the pictures of a devastated coast just a little bit to the north. Could it be that Cape May really dodged a bullet? I had to drive down to see for myself and check on our family's house.

There's a path in there somewhere.
It's all good news, really. The house is fine, and I suspect maybe power never went out here at all. The flowerpots I thought may have turned into projectiles in the hurricane winds were just where I left them. There were branches and trees down here and there, but the kids around here were already back in school for a couple days. After checking around the house and finding no damage, I took Gladys for a walk on the bay beach where we walk all the time. There has been some erosion, and our usual path from the street through the dunes now contains a small (two-foot) cliff. Some paths  are unusable with five- or six-foot cliffs, and some were untouched. I had to walk the whole length of our usual baywalk in spite of the wind and cold just to prove to myself it was okay and to reclaim it from H. Sandy. (And it was windy!)
Gladys actually likes the wind.

Some stores were closed.
Next on my agenda was a trip into Cape May City. This favorite place was evacuated before the storm and people were not let back until the flooding went down and all was safe. News must not have gotten out that Cape May was reopened, because I had the shops to myself! I shopped a little, but mainly walked around town reassuring myself that all is okay. People I met were eager to share stories and learn about the Trenton and Bucks County areas, and what I saw on my way down to the shore. (No, I had no trouble and no, I didn't wait in long gas station lines like they saw on TV. All of NJ is not like that. I had luckily filled my tank just before the storm.) They were hungry for a broader perspective. Curiously, some seemed unaware of the magnitude of the damage less than an hour north. I chatted with one woman as she decorated her beautiful, damage-free inn for Christmas, blissfully clueless. On a brighter note, and these are just the things I know about, the Washington Street Mall merchants have committed to donating ten percent of their profits for the next month, and Captain Ginny of the Skimmer Salt Marsh Safari is running three salt marsh cruises tomorrow to benefit the Red Cross. We'll be on the 1:30. It seems the birding is fantastic these days.

That lake behind the Arcade is not supposed to be there.
The Cape May beach showed the most H. Sandy damage. There was water where sand was supposed to be, and sand all over the Promenade and streets. Some of the first amazing photos to come out of Cape May showed six feet of sand being removed from the streets on the east end of town. The sand on the beach moved. The volleyball nets now look like really narrow tennis nets,

Those are supposed to be volleyball nets at Steger's Beach.

and the stand that rents chairs and umbrellas in the summer was almost completely buried. 

Steger's umbrella and chair rental stand is buried in that crusty alien sand.

There's a new berm created by erosion, giving my familiar beach spot a whole new look. 

A new bump in the beach.

The sand is not the fluffy kind we're used to in Cape May, but a flat, hard, crusty, alien variety. I figure the massive rain hardened it and the wind flattened it.

So that's it, my H. Sandy Cape May update. We were darn lucky in Cape May and Trenton. My heart goes out to those neighbors to the north facing unimaginable, sickening loss. New Jersey will rebuild the shore it is so proud of, but for now there's the anxiety and grief through which there is no shortcut.


Bob said...

Greetings from Pine Beach (about 90 miles north of Cape May). We are among the lucky ones, probably about 7 miles inland and about 5 miles off the bay. Our town lost 2 houses due to fire during thee storm. We personally had some tree damage, none to our house. The county already has removed the cut up tree we left out front (only about 50 bags of leaves await the borough pickup out front). We have some gas left, and the lines are long at the stations which do have power - until they run out. Some stores have started to reopen - we have made several trips to a chain grocery store that ran on generators for 4 days. Neighbors have been extremely helpful. Tree and line crews have been all over the area. I spoke briefly to a man from a tree crew from the Cincinati area. We are thankful for all who are working around the clock to clean up the area. In the nearby areas things are much worse. I am sure you have seen the wreckage from the Seaside Boardwalk, however the destruction of people's homes have been much worse - in Bay Head, houses were pushed by the surge across the streets into their neighbors' houses. The Mantalokin Bridge lands into a new inlet. Most of the penisula is only accessible by boat. Route 35 between Bay Head and Seaside cannot be seen in aerial photos. In the several miles between those 2 towns, the natural gas lines have been shut down due to numerous leaks that could not be controlled. Houses have been lost to flood damage and fires. I heard today that it could take 6 months to repair the gas lines there. As I write this on my cell phone, whose battery is running low again, the indoor temperature has again fallen into the 50s. By my count we are in our 119th consecutive hour without power. The 5 of us tried to watch a movie on a laptop whose battery lasted about 2/3 through the feature.

Good news, as I am finishing this post, I heard the compressor in the fridge kick on. No one else noticed. I turned on the kitchen lights to much joy from the family. I must go and test our heat and other connections (phone, Internet, cable?!).

Margaret said...

Thanks for commenting, Bob! I was wondering how your area did in the storm, and I'm glad to hear the news for you is good. I'm deeply concerned for all of the folks in the devastated areas, watching the news and seeing those unbelievable images. I can't help but think that could have been us, but since it wasn't we need to pull together like good neighbors and help them through this unthinkably difficult time.

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