BELMAR, N.J. (KDKA) — When KDKA’s Andy Sheehan went to Belmar just days after Superstorm Sandy, there was an ocean lake in the middle of town.
The boardwalk had vanished in some places and was jutting out of the sand in others.
On Ocean Avenue, bulldozers and earthmovers were trying to move the beach back to its rightful place.
In Belmar now though, Ocean Avenue is clear and the mile-and-a-half long boardwalk has been rebuilt from beginning to end and the beach is now open.
“It’s very enjoyable. We’re having a good time,” said David Dabbondanza, of Gaithersburg, Md. “We’ve gotten it together pretty well considering how bad it was.”
That Belmar is open for business is a testament to the resolve of its residents and merchants.
They busied themselves this winter and spring to be ready for the summer season, hoping that the grim reports after Sandy won’t keep vacationers and day-trippers away.
“Lots of people are surprised we are the way we are,” Jeremy Hunt, of 3 Brothers Pizza. “A lot of people say I didn’t know you guys were open.”
And it has some way to go. Many people are still not back in their homes, and the businesses that once lined the boardwalk are gone or have taken up temporary shop in trailers.
But the town has come together.
Eastern Lines surf shop is open after six months of restoration. But more than insurance money and government help, owner Anna Lamb says its townspeople pulling together that have gotten Belmar on its feet again.
“Family and being local and small businesses working together and connecting together that’s been the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this storm,” said Lamb.
“My faith in humanity was restored with the volunteerism we saw,” said John Maguire, a New Jersey resident. “People who live here and people who come to visit people who love the shore and come down to the shore.”
Belmar may not be all the way back, but it sure has come a long way.
Folks there say when it looked like it was down for the count. They pulled together and came back fighting.
But of all the beachfront towns that took a direct hit, Superstorm Sandy dealt one of her most devastating blows on Sea Bright.
When KDKA arrived last fall, store after store on Ocean Avenue had been pulverized, vacated homes had been flooded by a seven-foot tidal surge and sand was piled four-feet high immobilizing the entire town.
Many of those store and restaurants have now been stripped down to the studs and are being rebuilt.
The sand, which had locked in Giglio’s Bait Shop and nearly all other businesses, has been returned to the beach. And places like Bain’s Hardware have made it back from disaster.
But while other towns seem to have found their footing, Sea Bright has a long way to go. Only half of the residents have returned. Maria Ceccero is among them.
“Still a lot of work in town,” said Ceccero. “A lot of people aren’t back yet. A lot of kids aren’t back yet, but hopefully by next year.”
Public Safety Director Read Murphy concedes it’s been a long, hard road as residents and businesses battle with insurance companies for payments and the town struggles with FEMA for funding.
“We went from being very optimistic when you were here right after the storm to being optimistic but understanding that it’s going to take quite a bit longer than we anticipated,” said Murphy.
Still, ask someone about the storm and this is what you’ll hear.
“It was a devastating storm, but it’s in the past. It’s old news. It’s not that bad,” said one N.J. resident. “We’re lucky we’re healthy, there was no loss of life. Everything else is second place.”