Hurricane Sandy has left parts of Cumberland County’s Delaware Bay communities in shambles, with homes destroyed, protective steel bulkheads shattered and tons of sand covering roadways.

At least 20 homes were destroyed by waves and floodwaters, while some just fell into the bay, federal, county and municipal officials said during a damage tour of the area Thursday, the first day full access was available to those sites.

Still to be determined was the number of bayfront homes that may have to be demolished because they are now structurally unsound. Some of those homes belong to the few residents that live year-round in places such as Fortescue, Gandys Beach and Money Island in Downe Township.

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“What do you tell those people,” Downe Township Mayor Robert Campbell said as he watched waves lap under some homes in Gandys Beach. “Where do they go?”

In some places, crews were working 16-hour shifts in an effort to stop the still-churning Delaware Bay from further washing out parts of the small coastal communities or causing more property damage.

County officials also said protective dikes in Commercial and Maurice River townships were damaged, leaving some areas of those municipalities vulnerable to future flooding.

Cumberland County Freeholder Director Carl Kirstein said a countywide damage estimate was still being calculated.

Campbell said his municipality suffered at least $30 million in damage, with the bulk of that occurring in Fortescue, Gandys Beach and Money Island. The small, rural township not only has to figure out how to pay for emergency repairs, but also faces the potential loss of Fortescue, Gandys Beach and Money Island properties that provide half of the municipality’s tax ratables, he said.

“My tax assessor called me this morning crying, asking how many homes did we lose,” Campbell said.

Thursday’s ground tour was organized by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, who said he wanted a closer look at the area after a flyover earlier this week left him shocked at what he saw.

The tour was part of an effort to have Cumberland County added to the list of New Jersey counties already declared as disaster areas, he said. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency were to do a flyover of the Delaware Bay shoreline in Downe and Lawrence townships as part of that effort, he said.

LoBiondo said he met with mayors and other officials from throughout Cumberland County before touring the Delaware Bay coast. He said he told them that he believed the county suffered sufficient damage to be designated as a disaster area. He said that will make the county eligible for needed federal disaster aid.

Kirstein said that is important, as the financially struggling county will be hard-pressed to fully fund the repairs on its own.

Cumberland County’s damage situation is somewhat different from in other areas.

Damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the bulk of the county was not that extensive, and clean-up primarily involves dealing with leaves, broken branches and some downed trees. There was also little flooding in those areas.

The overwhelming amount of damage is along the county’s Delaware Bay shoreline. The situation was such that the county could divert a lot of equipment that was to be used for damage control elsewhere to the shoreline area, Cumberland County Freeholder Samuel Fiocchi said.

Repair and cleanup efforts are under way.

In Gandys Beach, interlocking concrete barriers were being installed to act as temporary bulkheads along Cove Rode, the community’s only street. Those barriers were being supported by tons of fill material.

In Fortescue, workers at the community’s small post office were carrying the soggy remains of cardboard boxes outside the building.

The deck at the nearby Charlesworth House hotel and restaurant was a popular place to watch the sunset on Delaware Bay. Most of the deck was destroyed, while other sections were unsteady, and much of the underlying bulkhead was gone.

Charlesworth House owner Jim Fonash said Thursday afternoon that tides have carried away about 8 feet of sand since Wednesday night. He said he’s worried that further erosion will undermine his business, the interior of which somehow escaped damage.

Fonash said he was trying to figure out a way to rebuild some of the bulkhead, but the necessary supplies were limited. “I’ll think of something,” he said.

Further up Delaware Avenue, Woodstown, Salem County, resident Ken Haynes was trying to clean out his one-story, green-clapboard bungalow located across the street from the bay.

“It’s full of mud,” said Haynes, who has owned the house for about 12 years.

Haynes said his property has weathered other storms without any problems, but not this time.

“It just came right over,” Haynes said of waves that washed through the community.

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