In Brigantine, strange sights during and after Sandy

President Obama escorts N.J. Gov. Christie to the helicopter Marine One, at Atlantic City International Airport, before the two toured storm-damaged towns.
President Obama escorts N.J. Gov. Christie to the helicopter Marine One, at Atlantic City International Airport, before the two toured storm-damaged towns. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: November 02, 2012

THE STRANGEST THING happened to Steve Kabala on Monday night as the bay crashed onto his front steps and churned inside his garage in Brigantine.

It was about 8 p.m., he said, when Hurricane Sandy's eye brought a moment of peace to what had been a hellish day at his north-end home. The moon was out along with the electricity, and stars spread across the hole in the clouds above the quiet Shore community north of Atlantic City.

Then Kabala, whose dog is named Sandy, heard his neighbors screaming, and saw flashlights pointing up Hutchinson Place. "I couldn't believe it," he said Wednesday afternoon, drinking a beer in his driveway. "You would have thought someone was driving it."

"It" was a Boston Whaler fishing boat, maybe 25 feet long and still covered in blue shrink wrap, broken free from its dock by Sandy and heading straight for his house on the flooded street. The boat clipped a mailbox at Hutchinson Place and Hagen Road, spun around, and ran aground in an empty lot next to his house.

On Wednesday, Kabala saw something even more out of the ordinary pass his house: President Obama. The president was in Brigantine for several hours with New Jersey Gov. Christie and other elected officials, surveying damage, and he sped down Hutchinson Place past the waving residents and American flags in a flotilla of black SUVs.

Earlier, up the street on East Shore Drive, Obama visited homes that had been struck by boats. The president talked with many residents, including the tearful owner of the North Point Marina, and pledged immediate help.

"We'll do everything we can to make it right," Obama told a group of residents.

Obama, who landed at Atlantic City International Airport about 1 p.m., also commended the community for coming together amid the devastation on Brigantine's north end. He made remarks from the driveway of Dee Brown's home, on East Shore Drive, amid the crab traps, piles of sand and mud, and the boat that came to rest by her garage.

Brown - whose husband, Doug, was already out checking on his commercial crab traps - said that the Secret Service contacted her at 9 a.m. to inquire about using her house for a staging area.

"I thought I was going to be nervous, but I felt so comfortable around him," Brown, 48, said of Obama. "He's a genuine person."

Brown said that Obama was shocked at where boats had wound up - some in back yards, others upside down, for blocks all around. He told the crowd that his first goal was to restore power in New Jersey and that 2,000 FEMA personnel were on the ground and people could immediately start registering with the agency for disaster assistance.

Obama lauded Christie for his leadership in the face of Sandy. Christie, in turn, commended the president for his immediate response.

"And I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and compassion for our state and for the people of our state," Christie told the crowd on East Shore Drive.

Folks in Brigantine were also thankful, if not a little surprised, that the two leaders could work together, just days before a tight, heated election.

"He's gonna get a few votes out of this," Charlie Eyde said of Obama.

Eyde, 57, fled his north-end home Monday night, walking six blocks arm-in-arm with his wife in waist-deep water to a relative's home.

Kabala, a registered Republican, said that Obama's visit wouldn't change his vote, but he was appreciative nonetheless. Some Brigantine public employees - they didn't want to give their names - just wanted the president to leave so they could resume their cleanup of debris.

"We haven't been able to do anything all day because of his visit," one employee said. "It put a stop to everything. There's still a lot of work to be done."


Victims of Hurricane Sandy can apply for financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean county residents can get immediate assistance, while FEMA will assess others' needs. Go to www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-3362 to apply.

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