Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A house floats on Barnegat Bay in Mantoloking, propelled a mile from its foundation by superstorm Sandy. Across the waterway, which separates mainland New Jersey from two washed-out barrier islands, a yacht sits atop a motor boat in a pile of debris left by a raging tidal surge.
The devastation in Mantoloking, an upscale community in Ocean County, is among the worst along the state’s coast from the biggest Atlantic storm in history. Rows of bay-front mansions were inundated, and at least six -- including the one with brown cedar shakes floating near the Mantoloking Bridge -- sit in the water or on the lawns of other properties.
“Our fear has always been that if we took a direct hit that the barrier islands and all the houses down here would get hit back,” said Bob Lake, 67, of nearby Brick as he led a three-hour boat tour of the area yesterday for a Bloomberg reporter. “Nobody expected this. This is beyond even comprehension.”
New Jersey’s oceanfront communities were among the hardest hit by Sandy, which splintered boardwalks and leveled vacation homes up and down the state’s 127-mile coastline. At least 14 people died in the Garden State from the storm, part of an estimated national death toll of at least 96, according to the Associated Press.
The storm, which made landfall on Oct. 29 near Atlantic City, caused as much as $50 billion in economic damage nationwide, according to Eqecat Inc., a provider of catastrophic risk models.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie toured the damage in Mantoloking today, saying 22 homes in the community were destroyed by gas fires. He expressed disbelief over the scale of destruction.
“This is unfathomable; you can’t even recognize it,” Christie told reporters in Brick today after visiting Mantoloking and walking along its beach. “It was like a scene out of a disaster movie.”
No bodies have been found in the town and there are no reports of deaths among those who chose to remain on the islands during the storm. The superstorm “cut our shoreline in two,” he said.
From Belmar to the mansions of Mantoloking and south to the 1950s-era motels of Wildwood, shore towns confronted destruction to beaches and local attractions, the prime economic engine for New Jersey’s $38 billion-a-year tourism industry.
Seaside Heights, about 7 miles (11 kilometers) south of Mantoloking on the same barrier island, had gained fame in recent years as the location for MTV’s hit reality-television series “Jersey Shore,” which depicted the beachfront carousing of eight housemates.
Now, the boardwalk and amusement pier in Seaside Heights lie in ruins, with a roller coaster that once entertained generations of vacationers left dangling into the sea.
“This is going to kill us; it’ll kill our property values -- I mean, the beach is gone,” Larry Martin, 51, who works for a software development company, said Oct. 31 as he carted the soggy contents of his home in Monmouth Beach onto the front lawn. “I’m going to clean up. I’m going to dry out. And then I’ll assess what my options are, whether to stay.”
About 6,300 people, many from the barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay, remained in state-run emergency shelters. Almost 1.5 million homes and businesses in New Jersey, or about 37 percent of the state’s customers, remained without electricity as of 2 p.m. today, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
In Mantoloking, where the median value of houses was $2.5 million as of Sept. 30, according to Zillow Inc.’s Home Value Index, several properties uprooted by the storm were seen yesterday strewn about the base of the bridge into town.
A brown, wood-sided mansion lay against the bridge. Another house, gray with blue shutters, sat askance on the front lawn of a neighboring property. At least a dozen more homes were cracked, and a gray house had its garage ripped off.
After the storm, a natural-gas fire erupted in Mantoloking and yesterday fires still smoldered in the Camp Osborn section of nearby Brick on the mainland. White smoke from fires could be seen wafting over the bay.
Places such as Seaside Heights and Atlantic City to the south were swamped on Oct. 29 as tidal surges flooded gaps between the low-lying barrier islands. In some areas, the waters haven’t fully receded.
In the Point Pleasant Canal north of Mantoloking and leading into the bay, Lake pointed to a seawall and estimated that the water was still more than a foot above normal.
During the tour, Lake also showed where the tidal surge at Mantoloking burrowed under a four-lane road at the base of the bridge leading into town.
The result was a new inlet that allowed greater volumes of Atlantic Ocean water to flood into the bay, exacerbating the flooding from the storm’s surge, he said. Houses that once stood there were now gone, and water swirled over what was once dry land.
“When you look at the amount of damage here it’s just beyond belief, we’re talking about billions upon billions of dollars,” Lake said.
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