Shore towns clean up as aid efforts begin

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STRATHMERE – Furniture, clothing and other personal belongings of residents in Strathmere, Ocean City and Sea Isle City now sit on the curbs outside their recently flooded homes, testament to how much damage Hurricane Sandy did and how much worse it could have been.

Hundreds of homes on the barrier islands saw flooding during the height of the storm Monday, Oct. 29. In Strathmere, around 150 homes were flooded from the bay. Some saw as much as five feet of water, according to officials. Many docks were damaged or destroyed. In neighboring Ocean City and Sea Isle City, the story is mostly the same.
Upper Township public works crews have been busy clearing furniture, electronics and appliances from curbs in Strathmere. The township notified residents last week that they could put their flood damaged items on the curb and public works would collect them.
Residents here said the work has been quick, that items are picked up almost as soon as they are left on the street, and that has set the tone for recovery in Strathmere.
In Ocean City, more than 50 pieces of equipment are being utilized nearly round the clock, removing in a few days over 1,000 tons of debris, according to Mayor Jay Gillian.
That is more than 10 times the amount of debris generated on a busy day in the summer, which is about 90 tons. While the city continues to assess the damage for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Gillian said Monday that the storm has caused at least $438 million in damage, $31 million of that includes the beach and dunes.
While he is concerned with the monumental physical damage to the island, Gillian said it is the emotional toll the storm has taken on the citizenry that worries him.
“Our downtown got devastated, businesses are going to have a hard time getting started again,” he said. “These next couple weeks are going to be tough. People are going to hit the wall.”
Gillian said dealing with the trauma of losing a home or business, a job, income and the arduous task of getting back on track takes a toll. He said he wanted a coordinated effort to help people, no matter what the issue is and “no matter what it takes,” to solve the problem.
With the mission of providing food, shelter and clothing to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, the city has joined with the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, local civic groups and local churches to create OCNJ CARE, a cleanup and recovery effort. The non-profit group is the central location for information, to volunteer, donate or request help.
Gillian said various organizations joined forces to create one central group organizing the volunteer effort.
“It’s going to be a long time,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we all need to work together, under one roof. Ocean City is really an amazing, caring place. We can do this.”
Drew Fasy, chairman of the organization’s board of directors, said getting the island back on its feet would be a long process.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “The island is in shambles.”
Fasy said the biggest task is finding homes for those displaced.
“We’re trying to help people with no roof over their head,” he said.
Rev. Brian Roberts of St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, a member of the organization’s board of directors, said residents could ask for help if needed or volunteer to offer help.
The organization will attempt to help victims navigate the complicated FEMA process, and go door-to-door helping senior citizens in need.
In Sea Isle City, officials are organizing several efforts to help storm victims. Mayor Leonard Desiderio said Tuesday that First Bank of Sea Isle City is accepting donations to an account for residents of Sea Isle who suffered flood damage.
“The scope of the damage is unbelievable,” said Desiderio. “City Hall, the Public Safety Building, many homes and our beaches were all damaged. Most importantly, we’re all safe and OK.”
Desiderio said the account will be for Sea Isle City residents only, but the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization aims to help residents of harder hit communities to the north with free Thanksgiving weekend rentals for 10 families.
Chamber president Chris Glancey said thousands of residents in north of Sea Isle City have lost homes and businesses.
“We want them to celebrate Thanksgiving on us,” he said. “We want to help our neighbors to the north.”
The chamber will provide free accommodations Wednesday through Sunday during the week of Thanksgiving, said Glancey. Families will receive a Thanksgiving dinner, food vouchers to Sea Isle City restaurants and tickets to Christmas shows that weekend.
VFW Post 1963 in Sea Isle City is also collecting clothing, canned goods and non-perishable items, said VFW Commander Chick Haines. The items can be dropped off at the post, 4001 Veterans Street off JFK Blvd.
Haines also said VFW members who need help should contact Post 1963. They are eligible for financial assistance to repair damages sustained as a result of the storm, he said.
“We will help you in any way we can,” he said.

Staff Writer Ann Richardson contributed to this story

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