GAS LEAKS, SAND KEEP SEA BRIGHT CLOSED

Residents and sightseers wait on the Rumson side of the Shrewsbury River for authorization to enter Sea Bright Wednesday morning. (Click to enlarge)

 By JOHN T. WARD

Anxious residents and a steady stream of wannabe gawkers poured into eastern Rumson Wednesday, hoping to be allowed into storm-wracked Sea Bright.

But Rumson police, abetted by a Monmouth County sheriff’s officer and a handful of National Guardists, continued to bar access to the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, citing widespread hazards in the sandbar borough.

Deep sand, building debris and natural-gas leaks make it impossible for anyone other than emergency workers to be allowed in, officials said.

“One match, and a whole block could go up,” a sheriff’s officer who asked not to be identified told redbankgreen, citing the leaks.

No one was being allowed to cross the bridge to Sea Bright, and several dozen residents and their friends gathered at the intersection with North Ward Place, waiting for word that they could look in on their homes.

Among those waiting beside a split-rail fence where the crowd was asked to stand was Sean Cahill. A  tenant of an apartment above Bain’s Hardware on Ocean Avenue, stayed in town through the storm with a group of other twentysomethings. They watched out their front windows as a 10-foot wave reduced the borough bus stop to splinters and smashed through storefronts underneath them.

“We had a front-row view of the ocean coming in over the parking lot,” Cahill said.

Donovan’s Reef, a popular oceanfront tiki bar, was leveled, its foundation stripped bare.

Chapel Beach Club was reported to be “completely gone,” and all the east-facing storefronts were said to be hollowed out of merchandise.

In the north end of town, the damage appeared less complete, said lawyer Tom Largey, who walked into Sea Bright via the Highlands unimpeded Tuesday to check on his single-family home on Beach Way.

Some of the older homes in the neighborhood were badly damaged, but his, which is six feet above the street, only got about six inches of water on the first floor, Largey said. The cellar was damaged, and a shed was destroyed, he said, but now his biggest worry is about leaking gas.

Largey also said he was told that removal of sand, which was up to four feet deep in places on Ocean Avenue, might be slowed by federal permitting because it is considered contaminated with household and other waste.

Also waiting was Linda Rodriguez, who rented a second-floor unit at the Anchorage Apartments, which abut the north side of the bridge, just three weeks ago. One of her neighbors, Ada Medina, said she was told one of the Anchorage units had a utility pole inside it after the storm.

Members of Cahill’s group said they violated a mandatory evacuation notices because they figured the three-story brick structure would withstand the hurricane and they didn’t want to miss a chance to be eyewitnesses to a history-making perfect storm.

They got their wish, watching as a wave slammed into an unoccupied emergency vehicle, tossing it toward their building at about 6 p.m. Monday, they said.

“We saw structures going down Ocean Avenue,” Cahill said.

“Honestly, though after this week, I have nothing but respect for the ocean,” said Cahill housemate Jack Hall. “I would not do that again.”

Acting Rumson police chief Scott Paterson said that because of flooding and an unconfirmed report of looting authorities were allowing Rumson residents only into the low-lying neighborhood south of the Route 520 bridge.

As he spoke, officers directed a seemingly unending stream of sightseers to turn their vehicles around and head back west on Rumson Road. “It’s sad, really,” he said of their interest.