ATLANTIC CITY — As city officials clean up and measure beach damage from Hurricane Jose, they are also watching Hurricane Maria.
Even in a weakened state and hundreds of miles from New Jersey’s coast, Jose managed to cause flooding and beach erosion in South Jersey earlier this week.
“It just took out our dunes system,” North Wildwood Mayor Pat Rosenello said of the damage caused by “the biggest waves” he’d seen in 40 years of living on the island.
“Our greatest damage was beach erosion,” said Scott Evans, Atlantic City’s emergency management coordinator and fire chief. “The dunes were not damaged, but we lost beach. We definitely lost beach.”
Evans estimates the city lost about 15 to 20 percent of newly replenished beach and is worried Hurricane Maria could cause more erosion.
Maria’s ultimate path is not yet known, but The Press of Atlantic City’s incoming staff meteorologist has been tracking the storm.
“Maria isn’t expected to make landfall on the South Jersey, or even Northeast, coast,” said Joe Martucci, whose first day is Monday. “However, with Jose not moving much over the next three days, Maria will get near Jose and may absorb it.”
Next week, South Jersey will expect high surf with a possibility of coastal flooding, Martucci said.
Beach replenishment and dune projects are effective, yet costly and something Atlantic city can’t afford to do every year, Evans said.
“(The dunes) really did a good job holding water back at St. Katherine Place, Oriental Avenue, Dewey Place, Pacific Avenue and Euclid Avenue, that are usually affected by flooding,” Evans said. “In the past, we would have waves rolling down the streets. With the installation of seawall, we had none of that.”
“When completed, we’re anticipating that (the seawall) is going to greatly reduce, if not eliminate flooding on the inlet side,” he added.
Between Jose and Maria, work on beach widening and dune construction in some of the towns hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy has come to a temporary halt.
In Mantoloking, an Ocean County barrier island town cut in half by Sandy, work was supposed to have started within the last week, but is now delayed.
Steve Rochette, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says that project will now start in early October, with other communities nearby following later, when more equipment is available.
“They can’t do it now with the way the weather is,” he said. “They need to be able to safely and effectively set up pipeline and do dredging, and if ocean swells are above a certain limit, they can’t operate.”
The dredging ship scheduled to work on the Mantoloking project is in safe harbor in the Absecon Inlet near Atlantic City, and pipeline equipment is temporarily stored in the Manasquan Inlet.
A ship scheduled to work in Brick Township and Lavallette, and in the Ortley Beach and Normandy Beach sections of Toms River, has been put in safe harbor in Sandy Hook Bay. After the storms pass, this ship will return to Absecon Island near Atlantic City, complete work, and then go to Ortley Beach.
The Army Corps also recently awarded contracts for beach replenishment in Brigantine, where Sandy made landfall, and in Ocean City. It soon will award a contract for three towns on Long Beach Island that were left out of a previous beach replenishment project.
Rochette said work on these projects is expected to begin in the fall or winter of this year.
After large storms, Atlantic City’s Public Works Department checks all storm drains for possible clogs. It is part of the routine set in place by Director Paul Jerkins and one of the duties employees will do in anticipation of Maria.
The city starts planning for potential impact about 96 hours in advance. Emergency management officials watch the storms develop, whether they’re in the Caribbean or off the African coast, Evans said.
Officials frequently check the National Weather Service, which provides four updates each day, he said. As the storm approaches, officials will alert local public safety officials, start sending notifications to stage equipment, and make sure everybody watches the forecast.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.