Reflection on disaster brings a reminder of our true strengths

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As I reflect on the surreal events of the last five days, I realize that our community has survived a direct hit from an historic and devastating hurricane through the grace of God and an epic, heroic, and compassionate response from our first responders, and community volunteers with the incredible lifesaving assets deployed in this effort from all levels of government. President Obama and Gov. Christie lifted our spirits and reassured us that our community would be rebuilt and that life for thousands of Brigantine residents would return to normal.

As President Obama and Gov. Christie visited the Community Center, which was a shelter of last resort for more than 200 residents during the height of the storm, and walked through the flood-ravaged neighborhood on East Shore Drive, they saw both the incredible destruction of Sandy and the boundless goodness and resilience of the people of Brigantine.

President Obama, in his remarks standing in front of the wreckage on East Shore Drive, captured the essence of Brigantine. He recognized and commended the actions of our first responders who helped to save lives and property, the selflessness of the volunteers who staffed our shelter and cooked meals, and the commitment of our young people who were volunteering to clean up homes damaged by flood waters.

The President commented on the resilience and strength of the people of Brigantine.

“When you see neighbors helping neighbors, you are reminded of what America is all about,” he said. “We go through tough times but we bounce back because we look out for one another and we don’t leave anyone behind.”

That is exactly what the people of Brigantine have done for the past five days in the aftermath of Sandy: they have demonstrated extraordinary kindness and generosity to their neighbors as we work together to ensure that no one is left behind in our efforts to restore our quality of life on this beautiful island

President Obama and Gov. Christie have made a strong commitment to Brigantine, all of New Jersey and the entire region, to provide the resources necessary to rebuild communities. We have already seen that commitment in action in Brigantine with a fleet of power crews from out of state, working to restore power to the north end and the golf course areas, and the quick response by FEMA representatives who are already on the ground and meeting with homeowners of damaged properties.

The president and the governor visited Brigantine and offered comfort and support to our community. They heard firsthand from those whose lives were upended by flood water and powerful winds, and the sense of helplessness and sorrow that follows a disaster of this magnitude.

Brigantine’s experience is representative in many ways of every shore community in New Jersey and the region that have been ravaged by Hurricane Sandy; some have experienced even more devastating effects with greater loss of property and even the tragic loss of life.

The picture of the President’s embrace of local resident Donna VanZant is symbolic of what will be needed for recovery in Brigantine and throughout New Jersey: the comfort and compassion of a hug and the commitment of resources to recover and rebuild.

Over the past week, I have witnessed firsthand the amazing courage, character, and heart of this community as we have worked together to survive and recover from the most destructive storm in our lifetime. I am proud of how our community responded, and I am committed to working with all levels of government and our residents to rebuild. I am also committed to recognizing the efforts of our dedicated volunteers, first responders and city employees who worked tirelessly during this event to protect lives and property as well as provide comfort to their neighbors.

On Thursday night as I made my last visit to the temporary shelter at the Brigantine Community Center to talk to the evacuees and volunteers, I was asked by Mike Feely, Beachcomber reporter (and for the past five days, the around-the-clock volunteer coordinator of our shelter), to provide my perspective on the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

After spending many long hours over the past five days working with residents in affected areas along with Councilmen Solari and Storino, City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal, Emergency Management Coordinator Lt. Jim Bennett, an exceptional team of Brigantine public safety professionals led by Chiefs Holl and Stone, the Public Works Department led by Director Ernie Purdy and City Engineer Ed Stinson, shelter chefs Mike and Sandy Morgan and numerous volunteers, and County Executive Dennis Levinson and his staff, I finally had some time and a purpose to attempt to reflect on the enormity of the events that had just occurred on our island.

I know that as people return to their homes and hopefully life begins to return to some semblance of normal, we will spend more time sharing our thoughts, experiences and concerns as we move forward. I know that there are many individuals that we will all need to help; there are also many individuals that we need to thank for their dedication, volunteer efforts, and courage in the face of this event.

I look forward to working with all of you as we rebuild and restore Brigantine.


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