Brittany Joline was a senior in high school when Hurricane Sandy hit her hometown of Manasquan, New Jersey. Due to her parents’ recent divorce, she and her father had only been living in their house for four weeks when the storm came. They left after hearing about the mandatory evacuation and when they returned, they found that their home completely destroyed. In this narrative, Brittany talks about the damage the storm caused in her community as well as the recovery process of Manasquan.
How long did you live in your home before the storm?
We lived there for four weeks before the storm.
Why did you choose to move there?
Well my parents got divorced. We were residing in Freehold and then my dad decided to move to Manasquan. We got a house right on the beach. I guess my dad always liked the town. It was the town we grew up with, going to the beach there and everything so I decided to live with him there.
My front yard was sand. My house was the first house closest to the beach.
What do you like most about living in that community?
I was really the small town vibe of it all. Everybody waves to each other, it’s a really tight knit community with a lot of little different community events like book sales, and little tastings, and it’s really cute.
In the days before Sandy, how did you prepare? Were you especially worried at all?
I remember my dad and I had a lot of doubt about the storm and its severity because a lot of times the weather people say that it’s going to be this big thing, then it washes over or it goes east and misses us. So we weren’t that worried about it until like two days before. Our town declared that we needed to evacuate. So at that point we were like, oh this might be serious, so then definitely the day of the storm we officially left. I remember looking at the ocean and thinking holy crap, this is a serious storm. You could tell the way the clouds were moving, everything was getting really rough.
What day were you told to evacuate?
I believe it was at least two days before. You’re still allowed to be in the town and everything but it was highly suggested that you evacuate. I don’t think they dragged you out of your house; you were able to stay there if you liked but they were like, you’d be stupid to stay in your house because it will get picked up or it will fall and it would be crazy to stay. So I think it was about two days before.
Do you know anyone who stayed behind?
Oh yeah I think actually a few people in Manasquan decided they were going to hold down the fort but mid storm they had to get out because there house was starting to creak and they tried to put the sand bags in front of their house to block the water but you can’t beat mother nature. It’s just impossible.
Where did you go after you evacuated?
My parents are divorced so my dad stayed at his brother’s house, in Colts Neck and I stayed with my mom in Freehold. And even in Freehold we lost power for two weeks.
Tell me about your experiences as the hurricane was taking place.
Well I remember it was really scary because all the power was out, even in Freehold where I was during the storm. So that was really scary as it is but I did bond with my mom a lot and we played cards by flashlight and it was almost kind of fun in a way. At the same time we had no real way to know what was happening to the house in Manasquan. I remember trying to see news reports or like aerial views of Manasquan to see our house because they wouldn’t let anybody in for a long time. So I was definitely worried just waiting for the word from town officials of Manasquan.
You said that your town was shut down for a while?
They weren’t letting anyone but residents for I think a few weeks after the storm hit. Nothing but residents and it took at least a week for us to see what the house looked like after the storm hit.
And it was it still flooded at that point?
Oh yeah well that’s why they weren’t letting other people in other than residents. They had to prove their residency, there were state troopers blocking the town because it was dangerous. There was a lot of electrical wires down, there could be electricity in the water, and it was just in shambles and things could fall down so they didn’t want anyone over there.
What do you remember when you saw your home for the first time after the storm?
I remember driving through and being like, oh my God, it was shocking. I don’t even know what the saddest part was, its just devastating in general. All like the cute places that I grew up with, were destroyed. So it’s always sad when things like that happen.
I was just like shocked but most of all I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe what the town looked like. It was crazy, it was torn upside down, flooded, houses were floating, boats were tipping upside down. My house was actually picked up and moved off its foundation and down almost like 50 yards away. It was just carried away. It was a small little beach bungalow and it was old so it was picked up. It was just crazy but I most of all just felt really bad for my dad because he was so excited to live there. We had only been there for four weeks. We were so excited, it was my senior year of high school, it seemed like after a pretty rough couple of months with the divorce that things were going to be getting better but I remember just feeling really bad for my dad because he had nowhere to go. That was his home. While I had somewhere else to go, he didn’t.
Can you explain the surrounding area of your home?
Well basically, if you are facing the ocean, there’s the town of Manasquan but on the right side of the town, it’s an inlet. It was like [the] perfect worse scenario for something like a hurricane to happen for that town because there was no real dunes holding the water back and then both sides just overflowed into the town and it just kept going farther and farther. There were no hills. It was very flat so it was very easy for the inlet and the ocean to both just come right over the whole town. It was all flooded and there was a ton of sand everywhere like so much sand was displaced into the front buildings of the beachfront properties. There was sand half a mile into the town. It was crazy.
Did you lose a lot of belongings that was in your house?
Well we lost the whole house. What we evacuated was safe. What we took with us so all my clothes, all my beloved personal possessions were fine and a lot of stuff was at my mom’s house anyway so we didn’t lose any things with sentimental value but the whole house we lost. All the furniture, all the pictures on the wall, just the decorative things and all the appliances.
Were your neighbor’s homes equally damaged?
The house that we were in was older so the newer the houses were the less effected. They had a stronger foundation but there were plenty of houses that ended up like mine. Some of the neighbors were just really badly beaten up but not picked up off the ground and washed away.
How have you gone about the rebuilding process?
Well my dad stayed with his brother for almost, I want to say like 8 months, and soon they were starting to rebuild only a couple of months after. Luckily my dad was able to move into another house about a year later in Manasquan and that’s the house that we are in now.
How was your neighbors’ recovery?
I think we were all in it together, so I mean it took a long time but within a year things were starting to rebuild but things even now; I was woken up this morning by banging because they are rebuilding a house two places down [where] there are still empty lots with the debris. There are still signs of a hurricane. There is a lot of rebuilding going on. Everyone was doing the same thing just trying to see what they can salvage from the houses and then trying to create piles of what they were going to throw out and what they were going to keep.
What are your views on the federal government’s response?
I think overall it was pretty good job. I think Governor Christie did a great job of responding to the storm and providing the support that everyone needed who lived on the shore. But obviously it’s never really enough when you lose your house. It’s a lot of different costs that go into things that the government doesn’t cover so I think it was pretty adequate given the circumstances.
How has the storm shaped your community and has it changed it at all?
It definitely brought everyone together. Someone branded the phrase “Squan Strong” and so everybody had bought the stickers and raised money. I did a little beach cleanup, we had garbage bags and we picked up the debris that was in the sand. You could even see in the sand today just some garbage that was probably there like pieces of metal and stuff unfortunately that got buried from all the debris from the storm but it really brought everyone together. I remember, a few days after we were trying to salvage everything after we returned to the town [and] some people, who I’m not even sure where they were from, but they were driving around with water bottles, Gatorade, snacks and hot food and they were like, if you need anything we have snacks and food, and they were just giving people food that they needed and it was really nice. There were a lot of people who were just looking to help in any way that they could. Everybody was so generous because luckily we didn’t get hurt financially too bad. My family in particular because of the insurance but I know a lot of people didn’t have certain insurances where they lost and they couldn’t rebuild for the next summer in time and they really got hit hard financially. So it was definitely great that people came from all over the country to help because some people definitely needed it more than my family did.
How was that next summer for you when you came back to the shore?
Well, it was different. The whole look of the beach was different. There were no dunes, they were still getting sand from the ocean and putting it back on the beach because so much was displaced. I remember them working really hard to meet the deadline of Memorial Day to get everything back together so the people could enjoy the beach again. But it just looked different. It was kind of sad but life goes on, you got to move forward with it.
I know you said you did a beach cleanup but was there any other volunteer work that you might have done?
Yeah I help worked at the church on Main Street, they were holding little donation bins and everything so I helped with that. I helped gather donations, sort them out, like tee shirts and pants for people who needed them. I just tried to help out, help my neighbors just in general, that was what everyone was doing.
What do you think are future lessons that people should learn from Hurricane Sandy?
Well I guess you never really know what is going to happen tomorrow so enjoy what you have today. Enjoy, don’t take anything for granted. Don’t take for granted the beauty of your surroundings because you really never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Nobody expected the storm to happen and flip around a whole town so I think [that’s] the lesson to learn from Sandy. Just be grateful for what you have and live in the present because you really have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. Definitely that’s the biggest lesson I learned for sure.
Interviewed by Gina Palmisano
Edited by Gina Palmisano
Freehold, New Jersey
Recorded April 23, 2015
Photograph by Brittany Joline