Surviving Sandy

Long Beach Island and the
Greatest Storm of the Jersey Shore

By Scott Mazzella

Foreword by Margaret Thomas Buchholz
Introduction by Larry Savadove

Hardcover w/jacket; 11.25” x 8.75”, 184 pp.,
256 color photographs, index.
ISBN 978-59322-079-2


The following partial excerpt is from Chapter 8: Landfall. ©2013 Down The Shore Publishing Corp.


When Charlie Potter arrived at the Shell in Beach Haven at around noon, the area was still in good shape. Bicentennial Park was untouched and the properties of both hotels looked relatively normal — aside from the firefighting apparatus parked in the Engleside parking lot. Potter’s truck remained safe in the Shell’s western parking lot. The only evidence a hurricane was on its way was at the beach. It was taking a pounding.

Walking into the main dining room and bar area, wooden boards blacked out the wall of glass windows behind the big oak bar that look out over a pool and the Shell’s trademark tiki bars. Aside from the wind, the blowing sand and the forecast, things felt secure. At least more secure than his flooded house in Holgate.

But the feeling would be fleeting. Sitting at the darkened bar, the wind whistled as it blew against the boards covering the windows, Potter began to realize it was only a matter of time.

Tom Hughes, the owner of the Sea Shell since 1992, was not terribly worried about flooding. Historically, it stayed dry in storms. When his father owned it, he didn’t even have flood insurance. He figured if it ever did flood, he’d just open the front doors and let the water go through. Hughes left directions to have the electric turned off to avoid a fire. While off the Island, he asked anyone still at the hotel on Monday to “abandon ship.” Only one man was expected to stay and his job was to watch the roof, which had a precarious drainage system. Hughes wanted early warning if that were to go.

But his employees did not close the hotel. They called Hughes at home and told him residents were coming by looking for a room. The Engleside was full so they gravitated to the hotel across the street, even if it was not officially open. Hughes knew he could not turn them away. He told his employees to let them in, but to keep the electricity off. But the workers only shut off the electricity downstairs — or so they thought.

Potter and bartender Willy Logue tried to direct the electrical breakers in the building to only send power where it was needed, and where it was safe. They spent about an hour searching for breaker boxes so they could shut off nonessential circuits before the water found them.

Then a wave dislodged a door and sent water into the pool utility room, which shares a wall with one of the inside bars. The wall couldn’t hold back the water and it began flowing in behind the beer cooler.

Realizing the water was now reaching electrical sockets in the building, Potter and Logue tried to shut off as many circuits to the bar as they could find. They thought they had them all, but they still heard fans to the beer coolers running. Making matters worse, the motors started smoking. Hoping to avoid a fire, they unplugged the coolers. They were heavy — about 350 pounds empty and they were still stocked for the fishing tournament with about a dozen cases of beer. Potter got behind the bar, pushed out the smaller of the two coolers and unplugged it. He couldn’t budge the large one. He asked Logue for help.

As they gripped the cooler, a loud, thunderous crack stopped them cold. In a rapid chain reaction, a massive wave snapped the dividers between the boarded-up windows and wall of the bar. Floor to ceiling, 120 feet of windows crashed in on the ocean side of the wall. Water swept up debris, the remnants of the wall, the side of the bar, the beer cooler. And the two men. They careened into the other side of the bar. The bar broke in half and, along with the cooler, trapped both of the bartender’s feet and pinned Potter’s ankle. They couldn’t move the cooler and they couldn’t free their legs. Potter tried to shove the bar top away with his free leg, but couldn’t.

They yelled for help. Another Shell employee heard them. He rushed into the room but could not budge the beer coolers. He ran across the street, through rushing water, to get help from firefighters stationed at the Engleside Inn. Within a few minutes, firefighters and some local residents showed up. Charlie asked that they get Logue out first. As they attempted to free his friend, the cooler trapping Potter pressed harder against his ankle. It hurt so much Potter at one point suggested cutting the foot off. That wasn’t necessary. The men were able to get Potter’s leg free. He was fine — bruised and numb, but able to walk away.

When they opened the front doors, water rushed out and took virtually everything with it. The entire inside was completely gone. All the bars were destroyed, the kitchens, the meeting rooms, floors, everything.

Potter went upstairs and got his stuff. The Shell didn’t seem too stable anymore. About a dozen people filed out of the hotel, crossed the river of ocean water to the safety of the Engleside.

After the last Long Beach Township bus departed, Commissioner Lattanzi decided to go home. Mayor Mancini, Chief Bradley, and Captain Deely could take it from here. They were staying all night and they had his number.

Lattanzi had barely made it through the door when his friends, Steve DiPietro and Jim Leonetti, arrived. He and his wife, Kim, invited DiPietro and Leonetti in and offered them a bite to eat and a chance to dry off. DiPietro told them about the breach in the dunes and how the sand was filling the streets. He couldn’t get home, which is why he stopped by.

As it got dark, the small gathering grew into an impromptu hurricane get-together. In-laws, friends, as well as their dogs, all made their way in. Soon it was a party of ten. Time to try to relax, enjoy the company, and make the best of a bad situation.

The group went outside to a pleasant surprise — the wind had died considerably. They stayed out watching the water churn below them. Time passed and the moon came out.

The calmness belied Sandy’s impending storm surge. As the group relaxed upstairs, the dunes gave up their final hold on the beachfront. The ocean broke through, breaching at every street end. Within minutes, the water rose rapidly around the house. Across the street the ocean blew out the garage doors of an old Cape Cod, spewing its contents down the street. Lounge chairs, boogie boards and garbage can receptacles drifted by. No one was certain that the little house would stay on its foundation. The last thing they wanted to see was it careening into the house they were in...

Scott Mazzella is an educator, former reporter, passionate writer and weather-buff. His family's summer home in Holgate, NJ, was damaged in Sandy, as well as in the '62 northeaster.

P.O. Box 100, West Creek, New Jersey 08092
email • fax (609 )812-5098

Copyright © 2013 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. The words "Down The Shore" and logo are a registered U.S. Trademark.