TUCKERTON — Almost eight months after Hurricane Sandy and $350,000 worth of storm damage, Tuckerton Seaport kicked off its summer season Saturday with the Baymen’s Seafood and Music Festival.

The rebuilding started one day after the storm because the Seaport was going to be back for this season, Tuckerton Seaport Executive Director Paul Hart said.

“The message this week is that it’s the first beautiful weekend at the shore, and we’re packed,” Hart said.

Hart stood with Tuckerton Mayor George “Buck” Evans as the two men smiled in relief that almost eight months after the storm, the crowds had returned to Tuckerton.

“This is the first step to our summer coming back. We still have a way to go, but we will never forget the people who lost their homes here,” Evans said.

A drive around this tiny borough nestled on Barnegat Bay demonstrates there is still work to do, Hart said, but on Saturday people came in droves for the festival.

“We ripped this rug out the day after the storm where there was about a foot of water down here,” Hart said as he stood on the exposed floor of the Seaport’s first floor.

At the bottom of the stairs, as visitors enter the exhibits on the first floor, the first display is an aquarium that is home to baby terrapins.

The Himmel family of Westfield, Essex County, listened as Hart told the turtles’ story.

“These are baby terrapins that were orphaned during the storm, and we took them in,” Hart said as he pointed to the small turtles swimming in the tank.

The Himmels decided to take a day trip to Tuckerton after hearing about the festival in Edible Jersey magazine. George and Deborah Himmel said they lost power during the storm but did not experience the flooding and damage that places including Tuckerton did.

By the end of the afternoon, food vendors had run out of scallops and fresh fish, and even garbage bags. All that was left were french fries and a few plates of clams, said volunteer Sue Ellen Overton, of Tuckerton.

“I’ve never seen so many people eating seafood,” Overton said.

“They’re stocking up for tomorrow again,” Hart said of the festival vendors, who are preparing for the event to continue today.

Jim Dare, of Barrington, Camden County, said he loves soul food and was happy to find it Saturday at the festival. As he stood in line and chef Julius Kojo prepared his plate at the Blossom’s Catering booth, Dare marveled at the progress his neighbors in the county to the east have made since Hurricane Sandy.

“These people were stronger than the storm,” Dare said.

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