Museum’s ‘Sandy Stories’ event a chance to capture memories

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Cindy Nevitt / Ken Cooper, president of the Ocean City Historical Museum, leads the “Sharing Our Stories: Hurricane Sandy” presentation Thursday night at the Ocean City Free Public Library. Cindy Nevitt / Ken Cooper, president of the Ocean City Historical Museum, leads the “Sharing Our Stories: Hurricane Sandy” presentation Thursday night at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

OCEAN CITY – In an attempt to capture living history, the Ocean City Historical Museum hosted “Sharing Our Stories: Hurricane Sandy,” a 90-minute presentation Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Ocean City Free Public Library.

The idea, said Ken Cooper, president of the museum board, was to give residents an opportunity to draw strength from one another while providing the museum an archive of stories, photos and videos of the Oct. 29, 2012 hurricane that has become the new benchmark by which to measure all storms.

“Talking is a big part of the healing process,” he said. “It was a rough thing we all went through.”

“Anybody who lives in this town is affected,” said a representative from New Jersey Hope & Healing, an organization that is starting an emotional support group that will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays at St. JohnLutheranChurch. “Everyone who experiences a hurricane like Sandy is affected.”

“You cannot prepare for a Hurricane Sandy, mentally, physically, morally,” said Paul Anselm, whose one-story home on 28th Street near Haven Avenue took on two feet of water. “We did not believe that at 82 years old, we would have to rebuild our house. I hope I never again see a Hurricane Sandy.”

Eye-witness tales

Of the 50 people who attended the event, only four admitted to remaining on the island during the devastating storm, something most swore they would never do again given the chance. None made that point more emphatically than John Walton, a resident of Third Street who, as the storm bore down on the town, grew to regret his decision to stay and ride out the storm.

“I will never, ever, ever stay again, ever,” he said at the conclusion of an animated retelling of his experience. “God forbid if the orders ever go out again to evacuate, I will beat every single one of you off this island.”

Walton admitted to being scared of the ocean water as it surged around houses in his neighborhood, entering his home and driving him up to the second floor with his inadequate survival kit of canned tuna fish, a flashlight, a radio, his wallet and his iPhone.

The water was chest high when he started to question his decision.

“What the heck did I do?” he said he remembers asking himself. “Why am I here?”

Tracie Balk, a third-floor resident of Gardens Plaza high-rise at Boardwalk and Third Street, also remained on the island during the storm.

“I’m in this big building,” she said of her reason for staying. “If the water gets to (floor) three, I figured we’re all dead anyway.”

Despite the spectacular photos she was able to capture of the ocean surging under the boardwalk and the dunes being washed away, she said she would not repeat the experience.

“I definitely would not stay again,” she said. “We saw what happened 60 miles up the road. We were blessed the eye passed over us.”

Cooper, a resident of the 800 block of Park Place and a neighbor of Walton’s, assured Walton that floodwaters would not reach their homes. Even after the storm passed, he struggled to accept that his 110-year-old home, which had not been flooded in the 1944 hurricane or the March ’62 nor’easter, had taken on water from Sandy.

“I was in denial,” he said, explaining that he started cleaning up his garage before his home. “I didn’t want to deal with it.”

Three months after Sandy struck, Cooper said he has received $32,000 in insurance money for $70,000 in damages.

“It’s a learning experience that’s probably going to cost me money,” he said, “but I’m going to have a new home, or at least a new first floor, when it’s over.”

Doug Bergen concluded the first-person testimonials with a slide show of photos he took during his three-day stay on the island. One of his photos was of the digital sign on the Tabernacle grounds, flashing the unintentionally ironic message, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Wearing a wetsuit and carrying his camera in a plastic bag, Bergen traversed the island Sunday through Tuesday, providing eye-witness accounts to people who had evacuated. A resident of the mainland, Bergen said his decision to ride out another hurricane would depend upon whether he had somewhere to stay.

Cooper invited Marty Mozzo, a resident of MerionPark, to speak about his neighborhood’s experience, and Dick Stanislaw, president of Ocean City Tabernacle, to speak of his. Both men evacuated for the storm.

Mozzo said he was among the lucky few in low-lying MerionPark to avoid water in his living quarters, but needed only to look at his neighbors’ personal possessions piled on the curbs to realize the depth of the storm’s damage.

“They lost everything,” he said. “It breaks my heart.”

Stanislaw spoke of how the storm brought out the best in people, how churches in town worked together to help as many in need as quickly as possible, and how volunteers from other states continue to offer their services as cleanup efforts continue.

“I’m glad I live here,” he said. “It’s a remarkable community.”

Cindy Nevitt / Paul Anselm talks about the emotional toll of rebuilding his Sandy-devastated home at 82 years of age. Cindy Nevitt / Paul Anselm talks about the emotional toll of rebuilding his Sandy-devastated home at 82 years of age.


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