The contrast of a mild day to weather a year ago was almost startling: Oct. 29, 2012, the day Sandy, a raging monster of a hurricane, made landfall 10 miles up the coast as a post-tropical cyclone. The ferocious storm flooded this Cape May County barrier island with three feet of water for two days.
As dusk set this year, Ocean City joined other Shore locales for a "Light Up New Jersey" remembrance, sponsored by Gov. Christie's "Restore the Shore" campaign. Residents were to gather at the Music Pier on the boardwalk, as did residents of nearby Margate at Lucy the Elephant, for a "moment of light" to contrast last year's plunge into darkness when power failed across much of the state.
Sandy immediately became the new benchmark for storm damage along New Jersey's 127-mile coastline - surpassing the storied March 1962 Ash Wednesday Nor'easter. It created $38 billion in damage in the Garden State and left 380,000 residents displaced. As the massive storm stretched across 24 states, it killed 159 people - none in New Jersey - and left 660,000 homeless.
Because of a storm surge created by the counterclockwise action of the wind and waves, sections of the New Jersey coast north of Brigantine, in Ocean and Monmouth Counties, sustained the most damage. In places like Mantoloking and the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, entire neighborhoods floated out to sea.
Visiting a flood-damaged firehouse in Seaside Park, with bare drywall and dangling wires, Christie said Tuesday was a day to remember volunteers and first responders who risked their lives to save others.
"I want us to think of how much better things look today than they did a year ago and celebrate that," Christie said. "We also have to acknowledge that there's still thousands of people out of their homes. . . . We are all not whole until everybody individually is whole."
In Ocean City, the damage was less widespread, but devastating nonetheless for property owners, who suffered as much as $440 million in losses. Nearly 100 businesses along Asbury, the town's main street, sustained substantial damage. Repairs, costing as much as $31 million, are still being finished on the boardwalk and beaches, and to other infrastructure, officials said.
"It was a scary day, so much different than today," recalled Dotty Lazanoff, 76, an Ocean City resident for 37 years.
Lazanoff was evacuated from her apartment house downtown after going door to door to help inform other residents about evacuating before the storm struck, she said. She came back to help serve meals to her neighbors who had been left without power.
"When we were allowed to come back after a few days, it was a nightmare here," Lazanoff said. "But we're blessed that we were able to pull together as a town and move on."
Lazanoff's sentiments were echoed by Yianni Siganos, owner of the downtown eatery Yianni's. Repairing the extensive damage to his restaurant - walls, electrical, plumbing, furnishings - initially was estimated to be a six- to eight-month job.
"I knew I would be sunk if I couldn't reopen for that long," Siganos said. "It was a miracle, but we reopened in about six weeks. Everybody in the town pulled together to make that happen . . . to help each other."
That's what got the town through the crisis, said Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
"There is still a lot to be done; people are still not back in their homes and businesses after a year, but we have made remarkable progress since the storm," Gillian said. "Pulling together of the entire town that we saw is something that has made us stronger as a town, though, a more cohesive group. It's remarkable, the progress that has been made."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.