WILDWOOD — Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. was looking forward to his 11th birthday on March 7, 1962 but Mother Nature had other plans.
The storm hit on Wednesday March 6 and Troiano said that it brought a tide that flooded the island.
“There was a high tide, a full moon and a nasty storm, everything just lined up,” he said. Troiano said he remembers watching the water from the bay meet the ocean in front of his parent’s house, right off New Jersey Avenue on Leaming Avenue.
“It [the water] just kept coming and coming and never went back out,” he said. “Waves were breaking west of the boardwalk.”
Luckily, he said, his parents house was spared from the flood waters. But many other friends and neighbors weren’t so lucky.
“The water was four feet deep in some places, especially along low lying areas like on Pacific Avenue,” he said.
The force of the water caused newly poured concrete pools to pop out of their foundations and washed out first floors of beachfront properties.
Troiano said that a motel, located on 21st Street and the beach, where his father’s concrete company had just completed pouring concrete floors, had most of its foundation washed away.
“It was just sitting on pilings and I could stand underneath the motel and look up at those floors,” he said.
Troiano said he remembers checking on his fifth grade teacher whose home was on Monterey Avenue in Wildwood Crest.
“Her entire first floor was washed away, too,” he said.
“Other than the water, what I remember most was the amount of fires,” he said.
Troiano said his father, a firefighter for Wildwood, spent most of his time at the company’s makeshift firehouse because the one on Pacific Avenue had flooded.
“I think my father counted something like 300 fires in a four day period of time,” he said.
Troiano said most of the fires were caused by the floor heating units that short circuited in the flood waters.
“There were some fires that the fire departments just couldn’t get to because the water was so high. They’d just have to watch them burn,” he said.
One particularly devastating fire, he said, was a furniture store on New Jersey Avenue.
“I remember sitting in the house and being able to see the flames from where we were,” he said.
Despite the destruction, Troiano said he remembers a few funny things happening.
“There was no getting around that this was serious business, but as terrible as it was, to a kid some things were just incredible,” he said and noted that he rode down his street in a boat normally found on a ride on Hunt’s Pier.
The boats from an African jungle ride on Hunt’s Pier were being repaired on Davis Avenue. They broke free from the repair yard and one found its way to Leaming Avenue.
Troiano said he couldn’t help but take a ride in one of the boats as they floated down his street.
When asked if he felt like the storm deprived him of a birthday, Troiano said that he got three days off school and road a boat down his street.
“Not many people can say they had a birthday like that,” he said.
Troiano said that the chance of a repeat of the 1962 storm is always possible. However, he said, improvements to coastal town’s infrastructure and the way buildings are built would make a difference.
Communication, he added, has also improved.
“There was no mass evacuation message,” he said. “Up until that night, the night of the storm, people were wondering if they’d have to cancel Ash Wednesday services at church.
“People didn’t have the ability to as accurately predict storms,” he said. “Back then the people who knew the weather and tides best were the fisherman.
“Now when they tell you that a storm is headed right for you and you should evacuate, you should do what they say,” Troiano said. “I guarantee that if you were here in ’62 and you walked downstairs to your first floor and found three feet of water there and were watching your neighbor’s homes catch fire that you’d know these storms aren’t a joke.”