Hurricane Sandy has turned years of collectibles and memories into growing mounds of debris on the curbs in front of homes throughout South Jersey.
Photographs and home videos, accumulated over 20 years, were in the pile in front of Miguel Guzman’s Ventnor home that also included a lavender and pink Barbie car. It all was damaged by the water that flooded into his one-story home.
“We were just destroyed,” Guzman, 42, said Friday about returning home after the storm.
He said he evacuated the day before the Oct. 29 storm, thinking he would be back home the next day, just like during Hurricane Irene. But a week later, when he walked back into what has been his home for 11 years, he found that very little could be salvaged.
His story was typical of many residents in areas hit hard by Sandy. Damaged leather sofas, piles of vegetation, wood, carpet, glass, mattresses, clothing and children’s toys were all blending together in their heaps of trash.
The Atlantic County Utilities Authority alone reported an 81 percent increase in total waste compared with the same nine-day period in 2011. About 14,700 tons of trash, bulky items and yard waste were collected this year, compared with 8,000 last year, according to data from the ACUA.
In Egg Harbor Township, public works crews faced a daunting task in West Atlantic City. In addition to the sand that had washed onto streets, residents were already dragging the remains of their destroyed first floors to the curb.
Rather than making many 40-minute trips to the ACUA, the crews collecting the trash began building a mountain of debris on a vacant lot along the Black Horse Pike.
“It may be unsightly, but we wanted to get as much picked up and out of the way of people who were impacted,” said township Administrator Peter Miller, adding that the township first got permission from the lot’s owner to use the property.
On Thursday, after most streets had been cleared, crews began the process of transporting the debris to the ACUA, where it will then be put in the landfill. Crews likely would be working six days a week through the rest of the month on storm cleanup in West Atlantic City and the rest of the township, Miller said.
Atlantic County spokeswoman Linda Gilmore said the county was working with towns to get the debris moved as quickly as possible. The materials continue to mount as people return home to find their belongings damaged from the flooding, she said. Some towns have helped by providing sites for people to dump their items.
“When you look around, you see how much is out there,” she said.
The ACUA is keeping its solid waste facility at 6700 Delilah Road in Egg Harbor Township open for disposal and accepting waste from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday.
On Friday in Atlantic City, many neighborhoods near the bay looked like construction zones, with loads of lumber and carpet by the curb. A row of homes in Bungalow Park shared a continuous line of debris barricading the sidewalk and piled as high as the top step of porches.
In Ocean City, the Montanas lost their car when their insurance company called it a lost cause. The flood of saltwater in their garage during the storm reached 19 inches, enough to damage the car, Peg Montana said.
“It smelled like fish, and you just wanted to get it out as fast as possible,” she said.
Upon returning to the island after the storm, her husband, Ed, tried every day to start the car in the morning, she said.
In Ventnor, Guzman said that all his neighbors were affected by the storm.
“I know the lady next door has been here for 50 years, and it’s never been this bad,” he said.
“I just grabbed my two daughters and a few things and left. I didn’t think about the important papers, the safe got wet, even though I thought it was going to be OK,” Guzman said. “A lot of precious moments, like my tapes and videos from the past 20 years” were lost. “I kept them in the bottom of the cabinet, and didn’t even think about it,” he said.
Guzman also is concerned about the educational future of his 8-year-old daughter. Although she is due back at the Ventnor Educational Community Complex on Nov. 12 for classes, the travel time to school may be much longer than usual if he can’t find a nearby apartment during the reconstruction of his home, he said.
“We may have to move far away, and then I may have to put her in a new school,” Guzman said.
In Brigantine, the city will pick up storm-related debris left out on the curb no later than Monday afternoon, officials said. After that, residents will have to wait for normal trash pickup.
Cumberland County Public Works Director Don Olbrich said crews were continuing to monitor roadways and bridges to make sure the debris — including trash and vegetation — does not block streets and sewers.
At the Bay Point Bridge in Lawrence Township, the county removed about 20 truckloads of debris. Olbrich said a lot of the material from damaged homes has been carried away by the waters and caused problems.
“The positive in this is that even though it’s the most awful way, it’s a way to make you clean out. It’s an awful way to make you get rid of what you are attached to, because when it’s soggy and wet and smelly, you’ll want to get rid of it,” Montana said.
“Now I just have to start the process of cleaning and reconstructing the house again,” Guzman said. “We have a big job to do, but we are going to do it. My spirits are high.”
Staff writer Wallace McKelvey contributed to this report.
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