Jul 28, 2014
Partly Cloudy

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath: Just One Neighborhood

Scenes like these are being repeated all over Wall

Belmar Boulevard is moist and slick. It's littered with orange, red and yellow leaves and tree branches of various sizes as I walk along northbound, talking with my neighbors, asking how they fared in the storm. 

There are a pair of garbage trucks parked nose to nose at the intersection with Route 34, under the unfunctioning traffic signal, preventing drivers from crossing the state highway -- just like every single intersection in Wall Township's 30-some mile circumference. None has power. Neither do the majority of its 27,000 residents.

As I walk along, everyone wants to talk about Hurricane Sandy, about how they were hunkered down as the winds blew down trees in their yards, about the explosion of the nearby electrical transformer that brought on the darkness everyone knew was going the norm for some time to come, about that tree right there and how it came down just a minute after the Durango was moved.

My neighbors were outside, wandering through my small neighborhood, on a Tuesday morning. Whole families walked along the streets, taking pictures, assessing damages, offering help to those in need, exchanging phone numbers.

This is Wall Township, a community built around highways -- Routes 18, 33, 34, 35, 71, 138, the Garden State Parkway, and we'll toss in I-195 for good measure. It is a place built for commuters, for people who get up in the morning and go away.

Not today. Today, people stayed. There was little choice.

The sound of $500 gas-powered generators and chainsaws broke the prevailing silence as each house in this working-class neighborhood dealt with what Mother Nature gave them in the previous few hours.

Over there, a downed tree lays in a driveway. A few houses down, a branch rests across the roof of a house, but with little apparent damage. Down a few more, a shed is missing much of its roof. Round the corner and yellow caution tape warns you away from downed wires that huge, uprooted trees had lain across the road, making it impassible.

A pair of men are chopping up trees with chainsaws. The scene draws a fleeting but sizable crowd.

Terrible, they say. Terrible what this storm did. I think this is going to be a long time before it’s cleaned up, they said. Good luck to you.

The sound of one of those generators comes from my next-door neighbor's house. He stops by and offers to hook up my house for a couple of hours. He does this to each house around us. Most take him up on his kindness, if only to re-freeze what has already thawed, in the hopes of keeping it for another day.

This is my neighborhood. These are my neighbors. This is how we act after a natural disaster. I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager this is not unique. I'd wager this is what's happening all over Wall Township in neighborhoods from the Howell boundary to West Belmar, from Collingswood to Monmouth Shores.

Later in the afternoon, my children -- deprived of television but doing quite well under the circumstances -- make up their own games. My littlest scripts her own skit, which she performs for us all after dinner. She's the TV News meteorologist who gives the horrible weather over the past two days, through a cardboard box representing a television. You'll have to trust me on this -- it was a scream.

This is my neighborhood. This is how we cope with a natural disaster, with kindness and humanity and humor.

I'm not a betting man, but I'd wager this is happening all over Wall Township -- people, faced with hardship, helping others who are in the same boat and laughing a little just for the heck of it.

No one likes you, Sandy, just so we're clear. But here in Wall Township, we're pretty good with who we are in spite of you.

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