Some get new beachfront property at Sandy-blasted Shore

Posted: October 31, 2012

Downbeach communities of Ventnor, Margate and Longport were hammered with flooding and heavy winds into early Tuesday morning that brought surging ocean waves crashing over bulkheads and up through streets where it met the flooding bay in Margate and Longport.

Although the Ventnor Boardwalk and the Piers in Ventnor and Margate survived intact, the hours of pummelling took their toll on homes, especially in beachfront homes without dunes and in the back bays, where several feet of water devastated familiar shore landmarks like Steve & Cookies and Tomatoes restaurants in Margate.

The beach blocks in Margate were covered with sand, pieces of decks were a block from their homes, and Lucy the Elephant - ok herself - was nonetheless surrounded by sand.

Public works crews used a bulldozer to clear sand, leaving large piles of sand along the Avenue. Debris from decks, fencing, gutters, and trash cans were scattered along beach blocks.

In Longport, the sand on the avenue was even more intense, a foot or more up and down Atlantic. "It's like Daytona, where you drive cars on the beach," said Longport Police Chief Vincent Pacentrilli. "That's what it's like on Atlantic Avenue."

The joke people have about homes a block from the beach one day becoming beachfront seemed to be coming true before everyone's eyes. "We are beach front for now," said Likie Nika, owner of Ozzie's luncheonette, surveying the sloping sands over Atlantic Avenue in front of her store, which sustained flooding and other damage.

"All we need is an umbrella, a chair and the sun," said George Nika.

The damage to beachfront homes around 24th street in Longport and along Point Drive at the narrow tip of the island was tremendous. The surging waves had crashed through glass sliding doors and windows, driven back furniture to the opposite side of the house and left broken water pipes gushing water unabated. A fire official estimated about three dozen homes suffered devastating damage. "The first floors are toast," he said.

City engineer Dick Carter was assessing the damage. Despite the devastation to individual properties, he said, "I think we dodged a major bullet."

Access to The Point, the narrow southern end of the island, was cut off because it was still under several feet of water.

Only one homeowner stayed in a home on the point - Marvin Ashner, 76, who lives in the home with the famous blues brothers statues right at the tip of Longport.

He said his first floor was ruined by surging tides Sunday night, well before the landfall.

"The first floor was simply a disaster," he said. "Plywood over double pane glass doesn't mean anything. The water knocked out the plywood, teh glass, the interior glass and everything on the first floor has been ruined. But nobody got hurt."

He said he was staying on for now, even as the chilly air went right into his home. Longport officials were well aware that he was there and were checking on him, he said. "I'm wiating for the emergency service for the generator, which is not staying on," Ashner said. "It's a little chilly. The house right now is wide open."

Homes with dune protection, a feature resisted by many homeowners because they block views, escaped relatively unscathed. "All these people who don't want dunes - those dunes saved us," said Lynne Baumgardner, who lives year round in a beachfront home in Longport. "We lost half our dunes, but it saved our house."

Her daughter, Susie, watched earlier Monday as the ocean surged over the bulkhead and into the street bordering their home. At nearby homes without dunes, she said, "Doors were blown in, everything inside is wrecked."

In Ventnor, there was extensive flooding in the heights, with many residents getting first floors flooded with water. But the Boardwalk and the Pier survived, and the beach was surprisingly relatively unscathed.

"Overall, we've never seen water like this," said Ventnor Fire Chief John Hazlett. "It's a historic storm."

At Newport Avenue, dune fencing was ripped up, and the lifeguard storage shed that had started at Suffolk Avenue and the beach in Ventnor had ended up at the pier about eight blocks away. At Dorset, an unmoored Hobie Cat continued its tangle with dune fencing.

On the boardwalk at Newport Avenue Tuesday morning, Chief Hazlett and Ventnor firefighter Joseph Callahan and cleared off dune fencing from the boardwalk as they surveyed the damage from the storm, which, all in all, was not as bad as feared. "The beach looks pretty good," Hazlett said. "The dunes worked."

Hazlett said firefighters responded to two car fires overnight in flooded Ventnor heights, loading equipment into aluminum boats and floating them down streets. They rode up the flooded streets in a city front-end loader more commonly used to fashion dunes on the beach.

Firefighter Joseph Callahan had to literally dive under waist-deep flood water to hook up a fire hose at the scene of the fire. "All those years of body surfing come in handy when you have to stick your head under water to hook up a hose," Hazlett said, as the two drove down the Ventnor boardwalk.

Police continued to respond to requests for help in Ventnor and sent a half dozen ambulances to transport remaining senior citizens from Shalom House, where alarms were going off and it appeared the generator may have been failing. Police declined to give any further information.

In Brigantine, there were reports of homes with a side torn off, a devastated sea wall, a middle school with a most around it and extensive flooding of people's homes.

Mariann Storr, who evacuated with her two girls and two boys but said her husband stayed behind in Brigantine, said the island was devastated by water damage.

"The neighbor's floating dock was in the yard between us," she said. "A lot of water damage. A friend said her whole downstairs was devastated with water. There was water up the mailboxes. The water in Brigantine is unbelievable."

Still, as the eye of the storm passed over, there was a sudden calm. Her husband, Scott, she said, "took a picture of what he said was the eye. The moon was out. The stars were out. It was incredible."

She said authorities were telling people it would be ten to 15 days without power in Brigantine. They turned the power off at the substation to prevent fires. "It's a mess," she said.


Contact Amy Rosenberg at arosenberg@phillynews.com or @amysrosenberg on Twitter.

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