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In The Wake of The Storm

Gerald Meaney

 Gerald Meaney, a New Jersey native, was living in Point Pleasant at the time of Hurricane Sandy. He is a former captain of the EMS squad. During Hurricane Sandy he was a volunteer first responder for the Point Pleasant, Bay Head and Mantoloking areas. In his narrative, he shares his experience in the wake of the storm. 

What were some of your Initial impressions of the devastation of the storm?

It was pretty incredible.

What were some of the preparations you made?

At home there was not a lot to do, where my house is, I’m elevated. But over there at the first aid squad we actually got wood from the lumber store and reinforced our building and the bay doors. We had been warned in certain places and other parts of the country, when a hurricane would come in, it would push the doors in. The doors wouldn’t work so you couldn’t get your equipment out of the building to go help people if you had to. We reinforced the doors and got supplies. We were prepared that way. We had a back-up generator at the building so we made sure everything was running. We made sure all the trucks were full and just in general we were ready for whatever we could face or have ever thought of facing before.

How did the storm affect you personally?

It was a combination of things. My wife was very fortunate in a way; she was out of state for the week for a competition in Denver. I was here the whole time with my dogs, so I had time to outside without feeling like I was abandoning her at the house. I was able to come down to the first aid squad and help out there in any way needed. When I was at home, a tree fell over from my neighbor’s property and crushed my shed, but, it was only a shed. It wasn’t a terrible thing. I have another house. It’s a bungalow; it’s a summer place, and its out in Long Island. It’s about half way across the island and that house took a big hit. It’s a family place, but I go forty-two to forty-three inches of water inside the house. The structure is there but we’ve had to rip out everything, the walls are gone, the electricity is gone, everything. When we walked in, the refrigerator and everything was lying on its side and was destroyed. We’re working with that, slowly but surely, since it’s not a primary home.

Were you required to have flood insurance for that home?

We did not have to have it and we did not have it. It was never something we thought about. We were close to the water, but it was a bungalow, a place that my wife’s grandmother built back in 1939. It didn’t cost a lot to build but it was worth its weight in gold to the family because that was their summer place. Your expenses are really taxes, utilities and things like that, but a nice place, in a sense that it was great for a getaway. With that being said, there was no insurance on it. So it was a total loss basically. We’ve slowly stripped it the best we can, we know that there’s mold there at this point, but we’re going to try and make do with what we can. It’s one of those things where we change our mind every time we go out there. What do we do? We’re both retired so our income in basically limited, social security, pension money, and stuff like that. Our plan wasn’t to rebuild a house at sixty-three years old. That’s where we’re stuck and that’s where a lot of people are stuck up and down the coast.

What was some of the damage that you saw?

The beaches were wiped, the dunes were wiped, and they were all pushed in. Just going over the railroad tract here you’d see debris that didn’t belong, boats, three or four blocks from the ocean. Mantoloking was one of the worst hit, period. It was amazing, the houses, which we grew up with, down in Mantoloking, were gone, they just didn’t exist anymore. The foundations were gone, it just washed right across. When I learned to drive, at seventeen, I remember driving down here from Newark with my Uncle. I remember the way these roads came to the beach, you’d be looking up at the sand dunes and you could barely see the houses because the sand dunes were so big. Then after the storm you drive in the same spot and there’s nothing there, there’s no dunes there’s no houses and you’re looking at the waves coming at you. The power this thing had was just incredible.

In Mantoloking it was so bad that they decided as a town to use a contractor to come and clear homes instead of having a hundred people come and demolish their own homes. They had a contractor come in and level the town from one end to the other and any home that was so damaged was destroyed completely. You’d see imprints from the ground from where there used to be cinderblocks under the foundations of homes, but there not even there anymore. The water just rushed through and took everything, the cinderblocks and everything.

You just can’t comprehend how that affects people. Especially when it’s theirs, you’d see the people standing around there crying and shaking their heads. They were just dumbfounded by their houses being gone. During the summertime, you’d see tens of thousands of people up and down the coast. At nighttime, around ten o’clock at night, route 35 would have been normally packed with people. Now if you drive, there’s no body on the road, the lights are all out, and very few houses are occupied.

 It must have been saddening.

It was incredible. That’s where I grew up, I remember going out at eleven o’clock at night with my family. Now when I go I think where is everybody? It was a traumatic effect. It got to me the most.

Would you tell us about any of the EMS calls you were on? 

We didn’t have a lot of EMS calls that we would normally have, you know of people falling or having accidents since most people were out. But, shortly after the storm, people were stuck in their houses, so we had to go in and get them out by boat. In the middle of the night, right after the storm, we got a call about a stranded dolphin up in the beach. We went up in the beach, three of us went up in our four-wheel drive vehicle, and got to the dolphin. The marine mammal humanity center came and took it away, but it didn’t make it. It was battered, real battered.

As a first responder, did you have any contact with the government or organizations to help you?

Yes. The county did what they could to help out. As far as the government, the state and the county helped clear things out the best they could. I’m very impressed with what they did in a short time. If you saw, basically a river going across the road, the stopped that. They built up a wall, they filled it in, they built retaining walls, and had a new road build there, in what, I think, was no time at all for how complicated the job was. I was impressed with the government as far as that goes. I can’t speak for afterwards, there are plenty of organizations out there that are not happy with FEMA, that are not happy with the state, and other donation funds.

I know that I heard a few outside organizations were coming in like the Red Cross. We didn’t see the Red Cross not for days and days and days. It was well after we heard everyone talk about certain agencies that were helping. There was nothing here. I’m only going to guess it was because this town was so organized and basically had their act together. So they bypassed us to get to other places, I’m going to guess.

I really felt that the organization of Fire, EMS, emergency workers, and police who were willing to come in and help was pretty impressive. We had fire companies, a crew form Virginia in our building. They had come up. Mutual aid, volunteers basically helping other volunteers, it was pretty impressive to me. I know that that is not unusual, I did it during the trade center attacks, I went up there and got involved and helped out. So other people do the same thing, they see the need and they just go help out.

What do you think are the biggest things we can learn from Sandy?

First of all, it’s stressing to people to get the hell out when warned. The best thing that could have happened is people listening to the officials that it’s time to evacuate. That’s the biggest thing to impress upon people. Make sure evacuation routes are set up. Obviously you can’t prevent a storm. When nature wants to kick your ass, it’s going to kick your ass, whether you’re ready for it or not. Make sure the people are out of harm’s way. Make sure more emergency services like fire and EMS have more secure buildings. Lastly, making generators, food and supplies for emergency situations are available in an organized way.

Interviewed by Hasan Khan & Lukas Morales
Edited by Hasan Khan & Lukas Morales
Point Pleasant, New Jersey
Recorded November 9, 2013