Steve Ettman sat on the front porch of his Merivale Avenue home in Beach Haven Monday afternoon with his face in his hands, his primary home ravaged by Sandy last week.
Around him was destruction and debris — a boat against his house, asphalt from the street that collapsed and mounds of sand that was pushed down the short Oceanside street by the force of the storm.
Long Beach Island residents got their first look Monday at the damage done by Hurricane Sandy as officials opened briefly to residents and homeowners for a “grab and go.” For many, the fleeting look, as well as scenes of work being done by emergency responders, public works crews and utility crews, underscored the storm’s power.
By 3 p.m. residents and homeowners had to leave. The island remained too dangerous, officials said, with the threat of fires, collapsing buildings and sightseers interfering with salvage work a constant threat.
Year-round residents Steve and his wife Stephanie Ettman spent $25,000 earlier this year to fix a mold problem that was a result of the last storm that their insurance didn’t cover.
Ettman said he doubted the mandatory evacuation in advance of Sandy at first but left the Saturday before the storm without many clothes to stay at his parent’s home in West Windsor, Mercer County.
“I’ll never doubt it again,” he said.
Ettman’s 15-year-old daughter, Lexi, is a student at Southern Regional High School and he would like her to stay enrolled there, but finding temporary housing in the area has proved to be difficult over the last week.
“People have this perception that these are all million-dollar homes. We’re not millionaires. This is our only home and right now; we’re trying to find a place to live,” Ettman said.
Before the sun came up Monday morning, traffic snaked east on Route 72 as homeowners and residents waited to access Long Beach Island for the first time since Sandy struck the region last week.
Island officials allowed residents and homeowners back onto the island to collect essential items Monday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Residents had to show identification to access their properties. Properties in Holgate and North Beach were still not accessible due to unsafe conditions, officials said.
Public safety concerns continued to plague Long Beach Island.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph said heavy equipment working to move sand and build up beaches could be a dangerous situation when the public is mixed in.
“We are at 40 percent capacity right now because of people being over here. We have heavy equipment everywhere working around people. It’s a dangerous situation here,” Mancini said Monday.
Another dangerous condition on LBI is the continued potential for structure fires as power continues to be restored, he said.
Several structures caught fire in Ship Bottom last week when power was restored there, said Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck.
"People could get seriously hurt. It's just not safe over here right now. These are the reasons why people cannot come back permanently yet. Everyone needs to be careful," Mancini said.
Most of Monday’s traffic was centered on LBI’s south end, which suffered more damage than the northern end.
Inside Ancient Mariner’s Bait and Tackle on Bay Avenue in Beach Haven, owner Bill Oler found seven bait freezers overturned after 20 inches of water flooded the building. Oler’s home located above the store survived with no water damage, but he said he is not sure about the building’s structure.
Wearing gloves Oler carried black garbage bags full of rotten bait to the curb. The sour smell wafted out of the dark wet store that has been in his family for 35 years. The Oler family has called Beach Haven home since 1979.
Oler and his wife had a retirement plan. A neighbor was going to buy the building this winter and let him finish out next summer at the store, selling off his inventory.
“We had it all in the cards to retire. We’ll retire now, but it’s going to be forced. I don’t think I’ll come back. We’ve been here 35 years and the 36th killed us,” he said.
On Memorial Day weekend, Matt Patel of Somerset County purchased his oceanfront home on Nelson Avenue in Beach Haven. Monday, he climbed a 10-foot ladder to get in his front door, the staircase ripped away in the storm and disappeared. But Patel said he will be back.
“This is how I get into my house now,” Patel said and smiled as he climbed the ladder carrying a camera.
Margaret O'Brien said she’ll be back too — at her Beach Haven Park, Long Beach Township home and Beach Haven business Jingles Bait and Tackle, both of which were destroyed by the storm.
“I was very surprised when I saw that second tide come down the street. I knew it was going to be bad,” said O’Brien who also lived on the island during the 1962 storm.
O’Brien turned her attention to her home that was flooded with 30 inches of water. A pile of water-logged carpet, wood and ruined furniture was positioned at the end of the couple’s driveway.
“We’ve walked around and looked this week and we are really lucky. You just step back, breathe a little and then put it all back together,” said her husband Gene O’Brien.
By Monday afternoon, the crowds were testing the patience of officials as homeowners and residents turned into sightseers.
Mancini warned homeowners and residents on Long Beach Island to stay off the beach. Beach Haven Emergency Management coordinator Bill Tromm also said that people need to stay off the beaches or they will be arrested.
Long Beach Township Police Chief Michael Bradley said police will arrest anyone who refuses to leave.
“People are out there taking pictures and they need to stay off the beach. They shouldn’t be up there,” Mancini said.
Mancini added that looting has taken place and although police are patrolling with an increased population on LBI authorities are not sure who are the homeowners and who are the looters now, which makes for a precarious situation.
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