TUCKERTON— Residents in the Tuckerton Beach section of the borough have begun returning to their homes as utility crews worked to restore gas and electrical power here.

Tuesday, New Jersey Natural Gas restored service in Tuckerton, a critical step before individual homeowners could begin scheduling re-starts on their residential gas lines. The gas company said work was also progressing on Long Beach Island.

Gas service was shut off in Tuckerton last week after leaks were discovered, with Tuckerton Beach being particularly hard hit. Service was also cut to Long Beach Island.

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But in a news release, New Jersey Natural Gas said it had completed 12,020 service assessments on Long Beach Island, with another 2,200 left. The company said it expected to finish the remaining assessments by Tuesday and would continue planning for service restoration there as well.

In Tuckerton, the utility said it had completed service assessments to all 660 customers there and was ready to restart service.

"That's how fabulous things are. We have some great utility crews working and doing their best to bring some normalcy back to the borough Tuckerton," said Mayor George "Buck" Evans.

Tuckerton Beach residents are working now to finish cleanup at their and preparing to move back if possible, Evans said.

Evans visited with the Stately family who has been residents in Tuckerton Beach since 1964. The family purchased the home shortly after the 1962 storm. They returned to their year-round home on Flamingo Road Tuesday for the first time since evacuating last week.

Amidst the debris and rubble, the bottom of their home carved out by Sandy, the family has made their home again and dinner was ready Tuesday night.

The Statelys had about six feet of water in the lower level of their home. The storm destroyed the walls, sucked out a jet ski and left nothing but destruction in its path.

“These are happy tears. I’m so happy to be home. This is our home. On one hand it’s great to be back on the other hand it’s disastrous and heartbreaking,” Marlene Stately said and cried as she leaned on her kitchen counter Tuesday evening.

Sandy swept Marlene Stately’s wedding album away in the storm, but the photos were found hundreds of feet down the street. Her daughter Lisa Stately collected the photos and they were laid in rows, drying out on the living room floor.

Marlene Stately was happy her Christmas decorations survived. They were stacked in boxes in the dining room. She said the upper level of the home will be decorated for Christmas, but not the lower level.

“We’re a tight town. We made it through. I praise our mayor, our volunteers and our police officers. We couldn’t have come back home this quickly without them,” said Phil Stately, Marlene’s son.

The Tuckerton Police Department was not so lucky though. Officers will not be going back to work at the station. Borough building inspectors deemed the station uninhabitable and sewage flooded the Tuckerton Police Department.

Currently, the police, a force of seven officers in the town of about 3,500 residents are using borough hall on East Main Street as a temporary police station, but have to use the Tuckerton State Police Barracks to jail anyone arrested, said Tuckerton Police Chief Michael Caputo.

“We’re going to have to figure out a plan as we work to get the funding from FEMA to rebuild, but these officers need their own place,” said Evans.

Before a homeowner can schedule a gas turn-on, "the home or business must have electricity, be habitable and occupied and any natural gas equipment exposed to flooding or other storm-related damage must be serviced and determined to be safe for use by qualified technicians," the New Jersey Gas said in its release.

As access is gained to owners of businesses and homes the utility is reminding customers that under federal, New Jersey and local safety codes it is prohibited to tamper with natural gas meters and service lines, the release stated. Tampering with meters and lines regardless of whether gas has been restored could also tamper with efforts to restore service.

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