U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez on Tuesday toured battered beaches and visited flood victims from Saturday’s storm.
Local officials tried to impress on the federal delegation the need for disaster assistance to help residents and businesses recover from a storm that unleashed historic flooding in some areas.
Booker and U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, talked to residents in West Wildwood, where the bay smashed through bulkheads and inundated homes.
Emergency officials are still tallying damage estimates for public property. The total damage to private property might not be known for months.
The West Wildwood Bible Church was flooded for the second time since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Donna Howard, 59, said the church was rebuilt after Sandy and the record-breaking 1962 storm. Its two-dozen parishioners do not know what they will do now, Howard said.
“We can’t even afford flood insurance on it,” she said.
The borough offered the use of a meeting room until they can make other arrangements, she said. But not even Borough Hall was spared. It was flooded Saturday, too.
Since the storm Saturday, Howard developed a chest cough that made her worried enough to see a doctor. Floodwater got into her home and ruined two cars. She was making plans to find somewhere else to live because the stench in her home was so overpowering, she said.
“We’re leaving. It smells like the bay,” she said.
The storm pushed two floating docks from storage on Bay Avenue onto Joe Stella’s front yard, knocking a Honda Civic off its driveway ramp.
“I saw the sea spray go as high as that three-story house,” Stella said.
Cape May County Emergency Management Director Martin Pagliughi said he will have an estimate on public property damage by Friday. He credited Atlantic City Electric for a fast response to the more than 40,000 customers who lost power throughout South Jersey.
The delegates toured beaches in Sea Isle City and Atlantic City, where the storm carved 15-foot cliffs for blocks.
A recent beach-replenishment project in Sea Isle did its job, protecting the oceanfront from the northeast storm, Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
“There would have been more flooding if the ocean had met the bay,” Desiderio said.
The delegation also briefly stopped in at the Sea Isle City Council meeting to talk about the damage.
Menendez said he wished there was a different reason for his appearance in the resort, but that he was eager to view the dunes that Desiderio had assured him held through the storm.
“I advocate in the Senate for dunes,” Menendez said. “Dunes save property and lives. I can go back and tell my colleagues that it makes sense to fund dunes and that dunes save money by saving property and lives.”
The joint visit to Cape May County by the state’s two senators was an occasion.
“Two U.S. senators are coming to Sea Isle City to view our beaches,” Desiderio said during Tuesday’s meeting. “To have two U.S. senators and a congressman in Sea Isle City is quite a feat.”
Booker said he was struck by the severity of the damage.
“I visited with a young couple. They lost everything. When you see something like that, it’s very sobering,” Booker said.
In Atlantic City, the delegates visited with neighbors in the Bungalow Park neighborhood at Adriatic Avenue, where high water inundated homes.
Marjorie Beard, 80, said floodwaters rose quickly.
“It came up to the third step here,” she said. “It was a picture to see all those trash cans floating away like soldiers.”
Fortunately, Beard’s home stayed dry. She just renovated her home after flooding ruined her floors and walls during Hurricane Sandy.
Marooned, she spent the day Saturday reading history books, she said.
Atlantic City Emergency Management Coordinator Angelo DeMaio said flooding in some parts of the city was nearly worse than Hurricane Sandy because of the accumulation of snow and ice.
“We didn’t get Sandy numbers but it was close,” he said.
Emergency crews assisted 150 people whose homes were flooded, he said.
“It doesn’t look like it from the street, but water entered a lot of homes,” he said.
West Wildwood Mayor Christopher Fox told Booker his tiny borough can’t afford to make repairs to damaged bulkheads and other infrastructure damaged by the storm.
“We only have a $2 million budget. If we have $200,000 in damages, do you know what that does to your budget? It crushes you,” he said.
Fox thanked Booker and LoBiondo for coming to the borough.
“Your coming here and getting things started is huge,” he said.
Staff Writer Cindy Nevitt contributed to this report.