Blaise Valentino, 7, and his brother Julian, 5, both of Margate, rode out Hurricane Irene with their family.

Martin DeAngelis

Most of the talk Sunday afternoon in local beach towns was about who stayed, who left and what happened.

As the sun tried to come out and life started returning to normal after Hurricane Irene’s departure, people got together to trade stories of how they made it through the night and the storm. 

Chris Kane, a teacher at Cape May Tech and a surfer, stopped at the fishing pier in his hometown, Ventnor, to scout out the waves. Kane said his family went to upstate Pennsylvania, but he decided to stick out the storm in their home in the city’s Ventnor Heights section.

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“We did fine. No water,” said Kane, who added that his home is at a high point in the heights — much of which is normally flood-prone, despite its name. “I think today’s winds actually seem a little worse than they were last night.”

Andy McElroy, a chiropractor, also stayed home in Ventnor and was thrilled to say his house stayed “shockingly dry” through the storm.

A few blocks away, Jerry Frezel had just gotten back to Ventnor, where he has a vacation house. He followed the evacuation orders for the shore area and headed back to his main home in Philadelphia’s Society Hill section. And after seeing both places, Frezel’s verdict was that Philadelphia got it much worse.

“There’s a lot of flooding up there,” he said, standing on the Boardwalk. “This isn’t so bad.”

Christine Sagnis also went over from Ventnor Heights to check out the waves with her family. They stayed home for the storm, and for a lot of the night, they were feeling pretty smart about that decision.

“We were fine — until we heard a tornado (warning) for Ventnor, Margate and Longport,” Sagnis said. “Then I was thinking, ‘We’re going to go down in the tornado, not the hurricane.’ ... That was probably one of the scariest moments of my life.”

But there were tornado warnings on the mainland, too, and more than one person who evacuated a shore town noted the irony that they seemed to run into more trouble where they fled than where they live.

“We went to Linwood, to my son’s,” said Barbara McGuire, of Margate, who was with her family behind her town’s beachfront library. “And his power went out, but we didn’t lose it here.”

At another local landmark, Lucy the Elephant, chief caretaker Rich Helfant said that 65-foot-tall, 130-year-old resident survived the storm nicely.

“This is the only trouble — the parking attendant’s booth blew down,” he said, as a small crew of workers flipped the thing back upright. “Knock on wood, (Lucy) is good as gold.”

Helfant pointed out a little commentary written on a chalkboard that normally welcomes visitors to Lucy: “Irene who?” it asked.

Across the street at Ventura’s Greenhouse, which reopened 5 p.m. Sunday, casino worker Barbara Gigliotti also said her only second thoughts about staying home in Margate came with those tornado warnings.

“We’ve been through an earthquake, a hurricane and a tornado — in one week,” she said.

Down on 11th Avenue in Longport, the storm did push several jetty-sized rocks into the street. William G. Straub, a homeowner there, said that has happened in other storms, but it was new to Longport native Mike Spruill.

“As bad as I’ve seen the sand on this street, I’ve never seen this,” said Spruill, who lived in the town for 19 years.

Spruill shares a home in Brigantine now with his girlfriend Jen Raquet, but they went to a friend’s Mays Landing house to stay clear of the storm. They saw no damage when they toured Brigantine, but their friend’s place sprung a few leaks they had to fix.

Universally, everyone who talked about Irene was happy to see it gone. Still, it should be pointed out that this hurricane did create one apparent miracle on Sunday: In Longport — and in many other beach towns — there were plenty of parking spots available on an August Sunday afternoon, even when the sun finally did come out.

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