It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit and like many others, we still have no electricity at my house off Mantoloking Road. Our neighborhood is humming with the sound of generators, but I’ve been worried about the silent households ever since the temperatures dropped.
In the past week, I (like you) have seen a lot, starting with a house strewn in the middle of Gale Road. A homeowner there said it washed across the bay and through the marsh onto his low lying street—a street that still reeked of diesel fuel on Thursday. Homeowners were shoveling thick, smelly muck from their driveways like it was snow that day. They thanked me for stopping and listening, even though that’s all I did.
My brother-in-law lost most of his belongings in a newly renovated apartment he rents from my parents in Point Pleasant Beach. A sister-in-law lost most of hers in an apartment she rents in Bay Head. A cousin whose precious little girl died of cancer this spring is still waiting to hear if his Seaside Park refuge survived. Other family members lost vehicles. I didn’t lose anything, except a bit of food in my refrigerator and, like you, a piece of my heart.
Important gifts, and a surprise
Speaking of food, I brought some to the Police Athletic League on Drum Point Road on Friday, heard the governor speak across the street in the parking lot of Emma Havens Young Elementary School, and watched residents throw household trash into a giant dumpster there.
My disabled husband woke up writhing in pain early Saturday morning several hours after the two of us slid a 6,000 watt generator that he miraculously scored at Home Depot out of his car, into a wheel barrow, and onto the ground in the cold, dark night. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I got up, made coffee in the ne’er used stove-top percolator, and drove to Pt. Pleasant Beach, weaving my way through the back streets of my home town to get as far south and as close to the beach as I could. Then I snuck through the courtyard of a motel and onto the beach.
Dawn was breaking as I walked south, snapping photos. I figured, rightly or wrongly, that I might get pretty far into Bay Head if I walked fast and early. A man with longer legs than mine had the same idea. He was determined to see the fate of his beachfront Mantoloking home with his own eyes. Media images told him it was still standing, but he wanted, needed to know if future memories would be made there or not.
We had a brief conversation and then I waved him on because he was on a mission and I was just taking everything in. I figured too that he would get stopped first and save me the trouble of tangling with police. I snapped photos of damaged and destroyed homes, of ordinary household items scattered like sea shells on the beach, of sand piled as high as the street lights, and National Guardsmen roaming the sea wall and peeking into open doorways, as curious as the rest of us about how such a thing could happen here.
Suddenly a vehicle appeared in the distance. It raced from Mantoloking toward my fellow walker. A figure jumped out and intercepted him. I hid behind a sea wall rock, feeling all too much like a nervous teenager on mischief night. The police officer was nice enough, the man said after he was turned back, but would not let him pass. I wished him well and turned back too, walking north along East Avenue, capturing the impossible reality through my lens as I went.
Images of reality
A producer from Yahoo! Studios saw my photos on Flickr and emailed to ask why I took them. She said she might like to feature some in a new video series the site is launching. I emailed back from the parking lot of the Atlanta Bread Company in Brick Plaza long after the WiFi hot spot had closed. I said I’m a journalist and I think it’s important to document history, especially history as unwelcome as this.
She was particularly interested in a photo I took on Tuesday of an elderly gentleman and his dog being rescued by canoe from a neighborhood east of mine. The team of three rescuers was just reaching dry land when I happened upon them. They were at a corner where I usually stop to stretch on my morning jog. One of the men said he is in his 60s and shouldn’t be rescuing anyone. “I should be getting rescued myself,” he said with a laugh.
I tried talking to the elderly man whose pale leg peeks out of the Flickr image when the youngest of the rescuers began yelling at me, “No pictures. No pictures.” I backed off, impressed with what I assumed was his desire to protect a loved one's dignity. The shot I chose to publish doesn’t show either man’s face. Journalism should, I believe, always be tempered with respect. The older rescuer didn’t care. He seemed to rightly enjoy his moment of glory more than he let on.
I haven’t heard back from the Yahoo! producer. She lives in New York and had lost power too initially. Before she went silent, she asked if any of my other hurricane photos are particularly moving for me. I sent her an image from my Bay Head walk, a photo of pilings with a surf board strapped to one and a sign attached to another. The sign said, “The Beach House: RIP c. 1890 – October 29, 2012. Thanks for the memories … We will never forget.”
We will never forget, but we will rebuild, one way or another.