Perry Kaplan, 62, rode out Hurricane Sandy until last Monday, when he was evacuated by the National Guard. Saturday morning he was cleaning up the pieces of his oceanfront home that were ravaged by the storm.

“When you watch the Weather Channel, and they issue a category three tropical storm warning — they forgot to mention that this was going to be like a Category 5 hurricane,” Kaplan said as he stood in the middle of debris and mounds of sand at his home in the North Beach section of Long Beach Township.

North Beach and the Holgate section of the township were two of the hardest hit areas on Long Beach Island.

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In his driveway, Kaplan propped up photo albums to dry them out in the sun as a crew of workers from A. Richard Aitken Jr. Builder-Contractor shoveled several feet of sand away from the home.

Kaplan, a year-round resident, stood on the beach Saturday looking at the damage to his 5,000 square foot home. The ocean had rushed under the home leaving destruction in its path, piling sand everywhere and destroying Kaplan’s Mercedes and Shelby Cobra Mustang inside the garage.

The lower level of the home and garage had about four feet of sand and some water pushed inside by the force of the storm, he said.

He said he kicks himself for staying and also for leaving the vehicles, but when the water started to rise Monday he had no choice but to finally leave.

“Monday night I was laying on a cot at Southern Regional High School, and I looked up, and I prayed to God that he would save my windows, but take the cars if he had to,” he said.

The home, situated on a private easement dubbed Sandy Feet, shares a private accessway with a handful of other homes that were also heavily damaged.

“That sign is coming down,” he said of the sign at the end of the driveway that read “Sandy Feet.”

On Friday, Gov. Chris Christie lifted an evacuation order to allow homeowners and residents to return to their island homes Saturday, many for the first time. The return of residents was orderly, and there was little to no traffic impact on Route 72 in Stafford Township, the gateway to Long Beach Island.

Some homes across Long Beach Island have electricity and water, but there is no gas service. Gas service is not supposed to be restored until Dec. 1, according to a news release from New Jersey Natural Gas.

The sun was shining and if it wasn’t November, the traffic on Long Beach Boulevard heading south could have been a snapshot from an early summer morning.

Instead, homeowners in Beach Haven placed the insides of their homes at the curb.

Dave Reynolds, of Wyomissing, Pa., was wearing a wet suit while raking mud, sand and dune grass from in front of his home. His choice of clothing was perfect for underneath his home, which was flooded with two feet of water.

“We were down there pulling insulation. We have about 50 bags,” Reynolds said.

They sat at the curb with pieces of wood and debris cleaned off the property.

Reynolds said he summered as a child at a home just up the street.

Reynolds, the commodore at Little Egg Harbor Yacht Club, said his next step was to assess damage there on West Avenue.

“We’ve got about four feet of water in the office down there,” he said.

Marla Wink, of the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, where homes were severely damaged by Sandy, escaped destruction of her oceanfront house, but inside her Beach Haven business was a different story.

Outside the small store on Bay Avenue was a boat on a trailer that floated hundreds of feet across the street and ended up on the sidewalk.

Locally, Wink is known as the Bra Lady because of her boutique store, Indian Summer, in the Bay Village shopping area. She specializes in fitting women with the right size in the shop that she has owned for 25 years. Now, she has an inventory of about 5,000 wet bras that she cannot sell after about three feet of water rushed into the store.

“I’m willing to donate them. I think they can be washed and used, I just can’t sell them. We came in here and put everything up, but it wasn’t enough,” Wink said.

“We just weren’t expecting it to be this bad. We rode out the storm, but the damage here is devastating,” she said.

The James family further north in the Beach Haven Terrace section of Long Beach Township was devastated Saturday, but thankful, they said, that they did not experience as much damage as their neighbors.

Saturday afternoon Reilly, Theresa and their son Colin James cleaned out their small beach house, dragging debris to the trash and trying to salvage what mementoes they could.

“We’re like the poor people who snuck on Long Beach Island and bought a home. If we have to take this down, we’ll never be able to buy again over here. We can’t afford to,” said Theresa James of the Bronx, N.Y.

Inside the home, a clear water mark on the buckling wood panel walls in the living room showed that water came in at about four feet. The wooden floors were rippling from water damage and pieces of the family’s summers here over the last 15 years were scattered about.

“Some life, huh?” Theresa James said as she stuffed a wet Game of Life board game into a garbage bag.

Colin James stuffed debris in a garbage bag and remembered his wedding in September on the beach up the street and the reception at the Boathouse Restaurant in Beach Haven. James said he was glad he and his wife didn’t wait until the spring to get married.

“2012 will be always be remembered as the year I got married and the year we lost the house,” he said.

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Follow Donna Weaver on Twitter @DonnaKWeaver

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