SEA BRIGHT, N.J. -- Residents of Sea Bright were told to evacuate before Sandy, and those who stayed were told to leave again on Wednesday as town officials worked to shut down natural gas lines that were leaking in some parts of town.
“We’re working on cleaning up,” said Danny Drogin, the borough’s emergency management coordinator, who met with the mayor and local council.
He was particularly concerned about the gas.
“We have numerous leaks. If we had a fire now, it would just burn,” he said. Firefighters would find battling such blazes nearly impossible becayse many areas are inundated with sand.
City officials had hoped to allow evacuated residents to return, but Drogin said they decided against it Wednesday.
“All it takes is someone lighting a cigarette,” he said.
Drogin said waters rose inside his own home, turning the inside into a “whirlpool” that moved furniture from room to room. But he was more concerned about his town.
“Elections are coming up,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I don’t know how our residents are going to vote.”
Drogin said he needed generators, food and supplies for volunteers. The local hardware store owner, who suffered major damages, was helping, he said.
“We need help; we don’t just need people flying by to see it,” Drogin said, referring to President Obama’s visit. “We need to get these people back in town.”
Drogin wasn’t sure he’d be able to get all the downtown businesses back.
“We figure a lot of businesses will not reopen. The ones that have been struggling, this will really hurt,” he said.
But Chuck McQuillan, 69, owner of Navesink Marina, where more than 200 boats were scattered by the storm, said he hoped to clean up and reopen in a few months.
“Our main building -- there’s water in there, but it’s intact,” he said as he surveyed the damage Wednesday.
Bill Rhee, 40, and fiancee Jessica Henderson, 27, hauled their belongings out of town Wednesday in dock carts they usually use for their boat. Among the bags was a pet carrier with their cat, Stella.
They stayed in town during the storm and managed to save most of their belongings, although water rose waist-deep in their house.
“I just need new walls, new floors and new water heaters,” Rhee, an anesthesiologist, said.
He was confident businesses would rise again from the sands.
“They’ll just build them up higher,” he said.
They looked up Ocean Avenue as an earth mover approached. Outside the nearby Fountains condominium complex, a water main was gushing, creating a small pond.
“It’s going to take a long time,” Henderson said.
In Monmouth Beach, meanwhile, the storm surge from the ocean swept over the seaside town even as water rose in the Shrewsbury River, flooding homes, cars and businesses.
Scott Zarriello, 50, was clearing his flooded home and garage Wednesday. He and his family stayed to weather the storm and saw water rise more than a foot inside their house.
“The river met the ocean in my living room,” he said as he stood within view of Ocean Avenue, which has become a beach of sorts despite the rocky sea wall, now covered in sand that bulldozers had just started to haul away.
Power lines remain down, trees were toppled onto houses, street signs were blown over or washed away.
“There are boats across town that are in people’s houses,” he said.
The Zarriellos lost four cars and were trying to get to nearby Sea Bright on Wednesday morning, where they have a town house. They heard three friends there may be dead. Police wouldn’t let them in right away.
Sam Perry, 57, of Monmouth Beach, walked north to Sea Bright along the sea wall, past cabanas sloughed onto the beach, earth movers and police checkpoints. Donovan’s, a local bar next to the town hall, was among the casualties.
“Sea Bright is devastated,” he told a passing neighbor, “Donovan’s is on the ground. They’re going to have to rebuild everything.”
Perry has 17 inches of water in his home. But the Jersey shore native says he’s not going anywhere.
“If you grew up here, you’re going to clean up your house and go on living,” Perry said as he stood on the sea wall watching the surf. “People want to live here on the beach.”