SEA BRIGHT SMASHED BY HURRICANE SANDY

Ship Ahoy Beach Club appears heavily damaged, as seen from the bridge. Below, Ocean Avenue looking north during the storm Monday. (Photo below by Peter Lindner. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Hurricane Sandy devastated Sea Bright Monday, bashing beach clubs and stores from the ocean side, flooding from the river side, and leaving an avenue of deep sand more than a mile long along Ocean Avenue, witnesses said.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, police were still barring entry to the sandbar borough, citing dangers that included downed power lines and natural gas leaks.

But in interviews with redbankgreen, witnesses — including two holdouts who defied a mandatory evacuation order and rode out the storm in their homes — spoke of far-reaching destruction.

“Chapel Beach Club – that’s gone,” said weekly Two River Times news photographer Scott Longfeld, who was permitted into town. “Every club except for Surfside is destroyed.”

A vacant spot where the Chapel Beach Club stood allows a clear view of the Atlantic from the bridge. To the left is the heavily damaged Sea Bright Beach Club. (Click to enlarge)

Downtown, “every piece of storefont is flooded,” said Longfeld. “It’s just gone.”

Donovan’s Reef, a popular watering hole, was said to have been leveled, with hundreds of bottles of scattered around.

At the southern end of town, the route to Monmouth Beach was blocked by a building that floated into Ocean Avenue, Longfeld said.

Bernadette Sabatini, who spent the night on Osborne Place, said the borough firehouse, which was rumored to have collapsed, did not. The police station next door also survived.

But “all the storefronts are caved in,” said Cono Trezza, owner of the newly rebuilt Sea Bright Pizza. “It’s a disaster. That’s all I know.”

From the Rumson-Sea Bright Bridge, an observer could scan a panorama of destruction that only hinted at what lay behind a curtain of wreckage.

A one-story cottage was picked and moved about 25 feet, prevented from washing into the Shrewsbury River, it appeared, only by a bulkhead.

Behind it stood, precariously, a two-story structure that had had its face sheared off and was buckling.

To the north, the Ship Ahoy beach club seemed to collapse on itself like a week-old party balloon.

Longfeld described a trek on foot atop a 10-foot-tall pile of sand that stretched from the bridge to Sandy Hook, with evidence of damage all along the way.

“The scope of this is just so mind-numbing,” he said.

Sabatini said she stayed in a neighbor’s second-floor unit after “three feet of water came rushing in” to her own on the ground floor.

Why had she stayed, ignoring directives to leave and warnings that she would not be rescued if she called for help?

“Because we didn’t think it was going to be quite this bad,” she said, citing forecasts leading to 2011’s Hurricane Irene that turned out to overstate the risk. “This time, who knew?”

Still, “it got to the point where we couldn’t get out, but I never felt my life was in danger,” she said.

Walking out of town across the bridge with Sabatini was Jeff Wadley, carrying a cat in a pet carrier. He said he had spent the night at his mother’s apartment, fortified with “plenty of water and a thousand dollars worth of steaks.”

For all its destruction, Wadley said the storm was quiet.

“There was just a little doink” when floating debris crashed into a barbecue grille outside, he said.

At the foot of the bridge in Rumson, police turned away a steady stream of residents hoping to return and curiosity-seekers.

Allowed by police to wait on the bridge was Mary Sanborn, a three-year resident of the oceanside Island View condo. She had refused to stay with her husband, Eugene, in his quest to ride out the storm.

“I’m just so nervous for him,” she said. “The fire department was supposed to go get him if they could find him.”