WEST WILDWOOD – Harry Kershaw, 81, has been through floods before at his two-story Glenwood Avenue home, including the 1962 storm that is the watermark for devastation in South Jersey.
But when he saw nearly 4 feet of water in his ground-floor workshop, he could not hold back the emotions. His power tools, appliances and half-finished napkin holders were ruined.
“I cried. I sat on the steps and cried,” he said.
Residents and businesses in southern New Jersey on Monday took stock of the extensive flood damage from the weekend blizzard and nor’easter.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno promised state assistance in helping restore businesses and homes.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew called on Gov. Chris Christie to press for a federal disaster declaration for two counties, Cape May and Cumberland, in his 1st District.
Southern Cape May County saw the worst flooding in a generation. The tiny borough of West Wildwood still had standing water in front yards on Monday.
Everywhere you looked, there were signs of damage, from piles of marsh grass to boats on trailers that had floated onto front yards.
And everywhere, people helped others. The American Red Cross went door to door delivering care packages to families who were dealing with flood damage in their homes.
Neighbors on Glenwood Avenue such as Bob Steffney, 66, helped each other begin the hard work of ripping up carpets and hauling damaged goods to the curb. Steffney saw flooding creep up to his front porch before receding without getting into his home.
“It was scary. You had piles floating down the street like it was a river,” he said. “I don’t have flood insurance. I’m retired. I can’t afford it.”
Kershaw has lived in West Wildwood since 1941. His parents bought the home where he lives in 1953.
“This is the worst flooding I’ve seen,” he said.
Neighbor Danny Giffear elevated his Glenwood Avenue home after Hurricane Sandy, which spared him flood damage this month. But he feared for Kershaw’s well-being.
“He’s 81. He beat cancer. But this is breaking him down,” Giffear said.
Wildwood, too, saw extraordinary flooding, Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said.
“It’s amazing the water we got,” he said. “The only storm that was close to this was the 1962 storm. That’s the barometer we use. Waves were breaking over the Boardwalk in that storm.”
Troiano lost a prized tree at his house to the storm. He said towing companies are busy moving flood-damaged cars off the island. The extent of damages might be unknown for months because so many second-home owners live out of state, he said.
Out-of-state contracting crews filled resort towns Monday to help with the cleanup. Broadco Property Restoration, based in Clinton, Mich., drove a fleet of heavy trucks 14 hours Sunday to North Wildwood where they staged in the parking lot of the former Coconut Cove nightclub.
The company spent six months in Long Beach Island helping rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, owner Chuck Broaddus said.
“There are months of work ahead of us here,” he said. “I don’t think the damage was as widespread as Sandy. But here it is equal to or worse.”
In Avalon, John O’Dea, 47, stacked sandbags three high around Coldwell Banker, where he is a broker. But the brick building on Dune Drive was inundated with 8 inches of bay water.
“It seems the small businesses took the brunt of it,” he said.
Most businesses along Dune Drive saw flood damage, he said. His office will spend a week cleaning up with new flooring to replace the ruined carpeting, he said.
In Sea Isle, as much as 4 feet of water inundated businesses on Landis Avenue. In Stone Harbor, where a record 10.52-foot high tide was recorded, waist-high water on 96th Street caused damage to stores and restaurants.
In Ocean City, a lumber yard in a flood-prone area was reported to be doing business Monday despite having had a foot of water in the building.
“I never went through a storm before,” said Milissa Walters, 53, of Dennis Township, and the owner of Kiwi Boutique on Pleasure Avenue in Sea Isle City. “When I came in, I thought it would be clear water. I had no idea it would be disgusting, smelly, yucky stuff that sticks instantly to everything. I was devastated.”
Walters estimated she had at least $12,000 in damages to fixtures.
The most alarming part of the storm was how quickly the water rose, said Jason Pellegrini, 44, owner of Steakout in Sea Isle City.
He was regretting his decision to close his restaurant at the official high tide at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. But just a half-hour later, a rushing river of water surrounded his building, stranding a pedestrian on his front steps.
Jim Hand, 61, co-owner of Fred’s Tavern and Liquor Store in Stone Harbor, said the water on 96th Street rose to waist-high within 30 minutes, seeping into his building.
“We had five planets lined up, a full moon, the wind blowing 60 mph and snow,” he said. “We had it all.”
Hand said he expected Fred’s to reopen Thursday and the liquor store to reopen Friday.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin toured four shore towns to assess storm damage. Standing in front of a “Storm Damaged Area, Keep Out” sign at the 111th Street dunes, the two officials said their intent was to identify the challenges facing mayors and to work with them in restoring beaches and properties.
“We’re here to see how to get the beaches repaired as soon as possible,” Martin said.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, watched crews move sand on North Wildwood’s damaged Third Avenue beach. He said towns might be eligible for some federal beach-replenishment money that was designated after Hurricane Sandy.
Federal disaster assistance is contingent on a formula that calculates storm damage, LoBiondo said.
“In Cumberland County, some towns had damage to 80 percent of their homes. But the county didn’t qualify because the biggest towns, Vineland, Bridgeton and Millville, were not affected,” he said.
Farther south, businesses on Cape May Harbor were cleaning up as well.
“Structurally, the damage was worse than Hurricane Sandy,” said Keith Laudeman, owner of the Lobster House and Cold Spring Fish and Supply in Lower Township.
One of his commercial fishing docks was partially destroyed in the storm. The Lobster House was flooded with more than a foot of water from the historic high water observed in Cape May Harbor.
“There was a lot of wind. We thought the scallop boats were going to break loose,” he said. “We got lucky there.”
The seafood takeout market reopened Monday at the Lobster House. The cafe will reopen Tuesday or Wednesday. And Laudeman said he hopes to have the restaurant’s dining room open by the weekend.