Excerpts from Great Storms of the Jersey Shore
Copyright © 1993 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
An account of evacuation from Beach Haven during the 1962 noreaster by Coast Guard amphibious boat:
One of the men must have recognized my anxieties and he reassured me we would make it. He said he had experienced other terrible storms at sea. Slowly the boat made some headway towards the mainland six miles away. It was only then that we saw the total horror of the storm. Houses had been extracted like huge teeth and swept into the sea never to be seen again. Others were flip-flopped on their sides, ripped apart, and debris was drifting aimlessly without a purpose or destination. Even though we had abandoned our home, I realized how lucky we were to be getting out of this hell alive. With much difficulty we continued to pick up others. Twenty-five of us were in that boat. With the whistle and howl of the wind, there was a hushed silence. We were too fatigued to speak.
The effects of a coastal storm as reported in an 1869 New Jersey newspaper account:
Massive buildings rocked like toys, roofs of tons of weight were lifted and carried rods away or torn into minute pieces. Huge strips of tin and metal were torn from places where they had been securely nailed and blown like sheets of paper for long distances. Steeples rocked and fell, huge buildings were crushed in like egg shells, vessels were swept like chips upon the shore. The rise of the water was at the rate of a foot every ten minutes. Verily it seemed as if Hell were empty and all the devils were here.
After the blow, one witness recounted, You can walk ten miles at a time on trees that are down without stepping on the ground.
From an account of the hurricane of September 1944 on Long Beach Island:
I kept watching and more water came over and pretty soon it was washing down in steady streams and then it came on down the street and got higher and higher and higher. I said, Mom, come on out here and look at this. She came out on the porch and said, Aaaahhhhheeeeee. I mean it scared her half to death.
She sent me down to Robiceks corner store, to use their telephone to call my father and tell him to come down and get us and take us home. About a half-dozen men were standing around. They said, Your father cant get you; the causeways under water.
The water was between my ankles and knees when I walked down, but it got higher in just the few minutes I was out of the house. We had a little front porch, four steps up from the sidewalk. On the top my mother had two big heavy flower boxes, and the water got high enough to wash them right away, then it washed the steps away, then it washed away a five-car garage from across the street. My three-year-old was so excited. She said, Oh, Mommy, there goes Jakes garage. Oh, Mommy, there goes Wilsons steps. Oh, Mommy, there goes... Well, mommy was looking and
didnt like it one bit.
I was holding my little baby and was so scared.
Then two men came up from the store; they said it was higher there and we should come down with the other people. They both looked at Elaine and since she was six weeks old, neither one wanted any part of carrying her. I wrapped her in a blanket and then a rubber sheet. I was scared to death she wouldnt be able to breath, the wind was so strong.
One of the men went out carrying Caroline and another carried Chub. I wrapped him in a grey shawl with long fringe. The water was above my armpits and I was holding Elaine above my shoulders and bracing my heels in with every step and kind of feeling my way and also looking back because there were big pilings washing down. If one hit me, I knew Id go down.
The man carrying Chub stepped in a hole where the sidewalk had washed away and went in over his head, and I guess he automatically threw up his arms...and he dropped Chub. I saw the man come up, feeling in the water for my baby and here I am holding one baby and cant do a thing about it and my other babys gone. But Chub drifted into the cedar tree in front of Lippincotts house and we both saw him at the same time: He yelled and I yelled. The fringe had caught in the branches, and the man reached into the water under the shawl and scooped him up. He was hollering mad; he coughed and sputtered and started yelling right away.
From an account of the 62 noreaster in Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island:
At this point you had to move very judiciously. When I got to Eighty-second Street, there was a slew of water coming down and I waited until it calmed down and got over to Eighty-third Street and banged on the door, hoping like hell nobody would answer. I knocked and knocked and knocked and all of a sudden somebody answered the door, a woman, in her sixties, Id say, and behind her, sitting halfway up the stairs, was her mother. And they were scared to death.
While I was standing there, a wave hit the house and jarred it off its foundation. The fireplace, in the east wall, was undermined and toppled, leaving an opening, so now the seas came in and inundated the living room. They got up on the steps, and every time wed catch a serious wave the house would bump, maybe six inches or so. I thought, This is not good, and started waving... Conditions were getting progressively worse. I mean, the night before the water was up to my knees; now it was around my hips, and Im six-one. In addition, telephone poles had been uprooted and they were coming down the street.
From the 62 Noreaster:
It had been, everybody agreed, some storm. It did more damage to the Jersey coast than any storm before or since. Newspapers wore out adjectives trying to describe it. Finally the U.S. Weather Bureau gave it a name, not a sissy girly-boyish name, either. It became The Great Atlantic Storm.
The magnitude of the storm, it seemed to us, made it necessary to give it a classification, an official name, said Charles Knudsen, a New Jerseyan who headed the bureaus headquarters in New York. And so it stands, a record to shoot for. Northeasters have come and gone in this area since time began, Knudsen added, and theyll come again.
The storm prompted new laws in many communities, setting construction standards that, among other things, dictate that new buildings must be on pilings, well above the highest imaginable tides.
Estimates of the damage in New Jersey were put at $130 million, almost half of the total suffered by all six of the states the storm hit. No point on the shore escaped unharmed. Mat Adams, state conservation commissioner, reported that the sea broke through Island Beach in eight places. In Dover Township, Mayor John Dalton reported, The beach is just about completely wiped out. In Cape May, it was all wiped out. Most of the boardwalk in Seaside Heights was uprooted. Out of about four hundred homes in West Wildwood, ninety-two floated off their foundations. One newspaper said, The Jersey coast resembled a beachhead battlefield after a Marine invasion. Another called Long Beach Island 18 Miles of Disaster; another, A Ravaged Strip of Death and Destruction.
Loretta Thornton remembers getting back to Strathmere: It was as if the homes there never even existed. The only homes that stood through it all were the very old homes. All the new ones were just washed away.
Avalon Police Superintendent Lloyd Riggall stood on a patch of sand on Dune Drive: This was my home. Its gone, scattered all over town. My car is gone. I have no idea what Im going to do. There goes my life, my entire life.
In Bradley Beach, three feet of sand buried Ocean Boulevard. In Long Branch, it was Ocean Avenue. In fact, the Ocean avenues of Monmouth Beach, Ocean Grove, Sea Bright and Sea Girt all seem to have tried to live up to their names. A report from Sea Isle City:
Wreckage is piled eight to fifteen feet in an unbroken line along what once were streets. Scores of cars are under water, only their roofs showing, abandoned when high water overtook fleeing families. Scores, possibly hundreds of refrigerators are bobbing on the surface of the water. This correspondent had to go 16 miles to find a phone that worked. To cross the four-mile causeway required 45 minutes as drivers dodged debris. Pleasure Avenue used to be the first block back from the beach. Today it is just a memory.
Reporter Carl Sheppard filed these impressions:
Of the curious way the sea tidied up after itself, like a good housekeeper following a rampage. Long sections of oceanfront were left neat as a pin, but many houses that front the spotless sand and creamy surf today stood one row back on March 6. The first row is gone without a trace, along with the lots on which the houses stood. Of the startling yardsticks left by the fierce excavator to measure his work. Manholes that were in streets now sprout like concrete mushrooms, four feet tall, halfway down the beach to the water. Homes stand isolated atop pilings ten feet high. Brick chimneys that once touched earth at their bases cling to house sides far above the new beach level.
Houses had been pushed around as if they were toys. Even the massive boulders that formed jetties all up and down the coast were pulled apart like so many piles of gravel. Trailers were scattered, trucks rolled over, cars set up on their noses.
Joel and Wanda Montgomery recall their survival during the 1962 noreaster on the north end of Long Beach Island.... That night their own electricity went out and with it the heat. As it got colder, they debated whether to leave. The storm decided for them. Joel:
It didnt seem unusually windy at first, but then the big picture window started to bow in and out. We got in the truck to go to the firehouse. At the boulevard I saw a big wall of water coming at us. It was just like standing in the surf. The water broke over the truck and filled up the inside. We were sitting waist deep in the water with our dog, Duchess.
The motor died. They were sitting in cold water. It was snowing. The truck started rocking as the gravel washed out from under it. Joel thought they should get out and get back to the house. Wanda:
I said, Are you crazy? As cold as I am now, if I get knocked down by a wave Ill never get up again.
I didnt want to leave the truck and hes telling me we should, so I opened the truck door and I said, Come on, Duchess, were going home. Now this was a Chesapeake; shed swim through anything. And she put her head down between her paws and started to whine. I shut the truck door and I said, If that dog wont go, I aint going, either.
They sat there for a while. Waves broke against the truck, which shifted uneasily. Things bumped them. The snow had turned to rain. Joel decided hed go for help. I got out to try to make it back to the house, but it was like a river. I was afraid to make a break for it.
Hunched in the racing current, the wind blasting his ears, the rain batting his eyelids, Montgomery thought he heard a motor.
I finally saw something like two little flashlights, not headlights. It was a guy in a truck and the dashboard lights were reflecting off his glasses. I jumped on the sideboard and pounded on the window. The guy thought the devil had him.
It turned out to be a Coast Guard truck. The couple, and Duchess, were safe.
The wreck master of the new life saving station at Barnegat City describes the wreck of the immigrant packet ship Powhatan off Long Beach Island during an April 1854 noreaster:
On Sunday morning I observed a ship of about 900 tons thumping on the bar about 100 yards from shore. Her foremast was gone. The ship then keeled over to windward. The sea then, of course, made a clean breach over her, and passengers began to be washed over.
The main and mizzen masts soon went by the board and bodies appeared floating in the surf in great numbers. About dark, the sea rose to a great height and one large wave, fully a hundred feet high, struck the unfortunate vessel, and in one moment the hull was scattered into fragments which tossed wildly through the surf.
The shrieks of the drowning creatures were melancholy indeed, but I could render them no aid as the sea ran so high I could not get near. In a few moments all disappeared beneath the surface of the water.