As homeowners return to Ocean City, the process of digging out begins
UPPER TOWNSHIP — Herb Hollinger was able to move his boat before Hurricane Sandy arrived Monday night, but it was the storm that moved the dock where he usually parks his boat.
Specifically, it lifted it up off its piers, somehow carried it between two houses and across Bayview Road in Strathmere and dumped it on his front lawn.
“I always wanted waterfront property,” the longtime homeowner said. “I got the dock, but I didn’t get the water.”
He did get some water — about half a foot in his home. One of his neighbors, Ella Diamond, had 2 feet in her one-story beach cottage.
“This is by far the worst devastation I’ve ever seen,” said the local fire rescue volunteer. “I’ve been coming down here for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything close to this.”
It was a common assessment Wednesday as both Ocean City and Strathmere permitted the public back in to survey the damage caused by high winds and even higher storm surges that left no building untouched on Peck Beach or Ludlam Island.
At the same time, people who returned were relieved. The hurricane didn’t hit as hard in those communities as it did elsewhere.
“To tell you the truth, it’s not as bad as I was anticipating,” said Hap Stanwood, who was checking on his parents’ place and one of his rental properties on West Avenue in Ocean City’s south end.
Still, a line of mud on the walls inside and outside the home showed that at least three feet of water came through there, ruining much of what was on the house’s first floor, and sweeping away items that were tied down in the garage.
“I mean, it’s still the worst I’ve ever seen,” Stanwood said.
On Ocean City’s north end, Jim and Elaine Witkoskie went for a walk on what was left of the beach nearest their North Street home. It was their first time out in the neighborhood since Sandy struck.
The water rose much higher than they expected. Jim jacked up his Mazda Miata and put it on cinderblocks, but the water still reached the doors and probably ruined much of the machinery. He said it was one of several cars in the community he heard were wrecked by flooding.
The water wasn’t just water, though. It was a muddy, oily, garbage-filled soup that coated everything it touched in a dark brown film.
“The stench is pretty bad,” Elaine Witkoskie said.
But the couple wasn’t apparently distraught. They had lived here since 1985 and long ago accepted the risks of living on an island.
“It kind of comes with the territory here,” Jim Witkoskie said.
Some of the first vehicles allowed back into Ocean City on Wednesday were contractors that out-of-town homeowners called to partly clean and secure their homes. The first that the J. Bishop Construction crew reached was a beachfront house on Central Avenue in the south end.
Around 11 a.m. Matt Kiley and Chris Anderson, both of Millville, shoveled sand out of the foyer, making a 4-foot pile just by clearing the entrance. Nearly the whole first floor and garage was filled with sand after water washed over the dunes and broke through another door, which the crew also boarded up.
There was nothing unusual about that situation, as seemingly dozens of contractors did the same throughout the island.
“There are going to be dump trucks, and dump trucks, and dump trucks full of sand,” said Kiley.
Another member of the crew, Art Ziegler, of Egg Harbor Township, said he was not surprised at all by the mess Sandy left.
“You buy a place on the moon you know you don’t got any oxygen,” he said.
Once police started letting the public onto Ocean City around noon Wednesday, they also allowed people to travel south to Strathmere over the Corson’s Inlet Bridge. First they had to put cones around an area of the causeway that washed out.
Access to Sea Isle City from Strathmere via Ocean Drive was blocked, though.
As Diamond and Hollinger talked on Bayview Road, they noticed George Welker across the street cleaning his garage. They yelled to ask him how he was doing.
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “I can’t quit my day job anytime soon.”
Hollinger laughed and yelled back.
“Is it Miller time yet?”
Welker listed the damage he had: water and mud in his garage and first floor, part of his gutter came down and some storm vents were missing. All in all, not that bad.
And then another neighbor yelled to him from down the street.
“Hey Georgie,” the man said. “Is this your dock?”
Apparently several pieces of his floating dock were also carried from the bay and deposited on Bayview and Randolph Avenue.
One section was still missing.
“Yeah,” Welker replied to the neighbor. “Just hold onto it and I’ll get it tomorrow.”
Welker said he first had to finish cleaning up his property.
“I need to get all my stuff done so I can help the other people when they get down,” he said.
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