By JOHN T. WARD
No one will be permitted into Sea Bright until all natural gas leaks are stopped and buildings inspected for safety, a process that’s expected to take seven to 10 days, Mayor Dina Long told a packed and anxious grandstand of residents at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High Thursday afternoon.
Briefly choking with emotion, Long held a piece of a sign reading “DO” from Donovan’s Reef over her head and proclaimed, “We will get through this. We will ‘do.’”
Organized to address the frustrations of residents and business owners who evacuated he sandbar town in advance of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, the meeting drew an overflow crowd on word-of-mouth and Tweets.
Following what she called “the worst damage in the recorded history of Sea Bright,” Long said the session was called to get information out to the public and “to help each other get through this.”
There were no fatalities and no injuries reported as a result of the storm, though an unknown number of the town’s 1,800 residents defied a so-called ‘mandatory’ evacuation order to ride out the storm, Councilman Read Murphy told redbankgreen.
With an edge in her voice, Long told the crowd that after the storm, emergency workers visited homes where some holdouts were thought to have holed up “to search for bodies” and injured people. Some doors were bashed in in the process, she said, and those homes were spray painted with Xs to indicate they’d been searched, she said.
Most of the town’s beach clubs “are damaged beyond repair and, in some cases, are gone,” Long reported.
But on side streets, “the houses are still standing,” Long said, though their conditions remain uncertain.
The storm left “a literal mountain of sand and debris” on Ocean Avenue, Long said. The sand is being carted to the oceanside beach, she said, though she did not immediately address the issue of whether and how it might be cleaned.
No structures would be demolished before owners had a chance to inspect them, she said. Results of inspections, including photos, will be posted on the borough website, she added.
“We expect this is going to take seven to 10 days, and no one will be allowed back into town until this is completed,” she said.
During the Q&A session, a man asked why wasn’t the gas shut off before the storm.
“That’s not a question I can answer,” Long replied, though she later said there was no one single valve controlling the gas flow into town, and that many underground valves had yet to be located and shut off.
Who’s in charge?, someone else asked.
“I believe that would be me,” said Long. “It’s what I was elected to do, and I’m damn well going to do it.”
Long also told residents:
• That town officials would go to the homes of residents who’d left behind pets or critical medications and try to retrieve them.
• That next week’s voting would take place at a polling station at the Fair Haven Firehouse.
• That borough officials were gathering information that residents would need to file FEMA claims.
• That the borough’s water supply was not shut off because it was not considered compromised by the storm.
• That even though the North Beach area appeared to be less damaged than the rest of town, no one would be permitted in there. “The gas leaks are everywhere, not just in the south part of town,” she said.
Linda Rodriguez, a resident of the Anchorage Apartments abutting the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, was beaming afterward. She told redbankgreen that Councilwoman Peggy Bills had promised to visit her apartment and retrieve her pet birds if they were still there.