By JOHN T. WARD
Next summer, when Fair Haven residents return to the placid town dock on the Navesink River for some fishing or light entertainment, they’ll find a new informational display reminding them that the beautiful waterway just underneath them can become an instrument of destruction.
Caroline Peters, a 17-year-old senior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, created the display in pursuit of her Girl Scouts Gold Award – the equivalent of the Boy Scouts’ Eagle designation, she tells redbankgreen. And the project came about because she sensed that many people had grown complacent about hurricane warnings by the time Hurricane Sandy unleashed its wrath on the Jersey Shore and beyond two years ago.
“I lived through it, I have friends who lost their homes in it,” Peters said following a dedication ceremony last month. “So it’s all about storm surges, and how you can prepare for them.”
The installation, which was paid for by the Foundation of Fair Haven, covers the history of hurricanes in Monmouth County, including the Vagabond Hurricane of 1903, the first such storm to make landfall in New Jersey after records of such events began being kept half a century earlier – and the only one until Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.
Sandy’s destructive power inspired Peters’ curiosity. Particular attention is given in her research to storm surges, in which the furious counterclockwise winds of a hurricane push water toward the shoreline, steeply increasing tide levels and causing massive flooding.
The plaque shows areas of potential damage in future storms, and offers advice on how residents can prepare for storms.
Peters took a straightforward, instructional approach with the information and layout, including images of storm tracks, archival photos and maps of low-lying areas. Two photos compare Sandy with the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane.
“I’m kind of used to doing things like this, to kind of get all the facts out and try to educate,” said Peters.
In the case of Sandy, whose impact was widespread in Sea Bright and Rumson, “I don’t think people realized the damage that storm surge could cause, because the year before, we had a hurricane scare with Hurricane Irene, but nothing really happened,” Peters said. “People were underestimating it, so a lot of damaged happened because of that.”
Her plaque, of course, would be underwater if another storm of Sandy’s intensity struck, but Peters said she’s thrilled to have her work displayed where it is.
“I feel like this is project is going to help people in the future,” with the most important takeaway “how to prepare yourself,” she said.
“You don’t want to forget,” said Caroline’s father, borough Councilman Jon Peters. “You look at the pictures from 1944, and clearly it’s a very similar experience to what we had in 2012. It’s good to see that we’re going to remember what can happen.”