Sandy whips up a ‘boat stew’

Posted on Written by Reagan Haynes

12_sandy_2Hardest-hit areas face a long recovery from ‘incredible destruction’

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy slammed New Jersey and the Northeast on Oct. 29 there were still thousands without power, fuel shortages and sanctions, and mandatory evacuations.

Sandy brought surges of nearly 20 feet in some areas on top of one of the highest tides of the year, leaving homes awash and tossing vessels around into a “boat stew.” In parts of New Jersey’s barrier islands, the ocean met the bay, and a new inlet was forged, resulting in the compromised Mantoloking Bridge leading directly into the Atlantic.

A second storm, a snow-bearing nor’easter, struck the affected areas a week later. It complicated recovery efforts, but was far less damaging than Sandy.

“Nothing is comparable to this,” says Matt Begovich of Global One Yacht Sales, an online broker based in Neptune, N.J. “I’ve never seen anything to affect the boating industry like this, and I’ve owned 35 boats over the course of my life. We’ve never had anything like this occur. This is just unprecedented.

“I volunteered with my church and went to Point Pleasant Beach, and the devastation is just — it’s hard for me to even talk about,” he adds. “It’s just incredible, the devastation.”

Millions lost power, and more than a million were still waiting to be restored more than a week after Sandy inflicted destruction from south of Atlantic City, N.J., to Rhode Island, with the effects stretching from the Carolinas to Wisconsin to Canada. “It’s going to be a long recovery for some of these guys, that’s for sure,” says Vince Mazzone, events planner for the New York Marine Trades Association. “Even for people who didn’t get wiped out, the ones who just got 2 or 3 feet of water in the showroom, that mixed with some oil made for some messy situations, and a lot of people lost computers, versus the guys who had boats thrown off their property down the block. Long Beach had sand three blocks from the beach. There were 45-foot boats in the street.” A term being used to describe the carnage has been “boat stew,” Begovich says.

13_sandy_2“Certainly this was a historic storm that broke many records,” says Brian McCallum, assistant director of the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Center in Atlanta. The highest tidal storm surges reached nearly 20 feet in some areas, McCallum says.

Some marine businesses were beginning the uphill climb to rebuilding, but in many storm-ravaged areas residents and business owners were still struggling to meet basic needs. Just a week and a half after Sandy, some areas were evacuated in anticipation of a second storm, a nor’easter that hampered relief efforts, in part, because the natural barrier of the dunes had all but disappeared in some areas.

The Mantoloking Bridge, which used to span Barnegat Bay, now leads to the Atlantic, Begovich says. “There’s no more land there — it’s just ocean. A new inlet was forged.”

Power that had finally been restored after nine days of outages in certain areas, such as Nassau County, went out again when the nor’easter hit Nov. 7. “I am waiting for the locusts and pestilence next,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters before the nor’easter struck. “We may take a setback in the next 24 hours.”

Assessing the damage

Melissa Danko, director of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey, says the damage was still hard to gauge nearly two weeks after Sandy struck. “We’re still discovering something new each hour,” Danko says. “We’ve been hit really, really hard here. Some marinas lost docks and buildings and boats. Others have flooding damage. It’s been pretty bad. We are definitely getting reports of complete devastation.”

Some were lucky and escaped the worst of the storm, while others not so far away received tremendous damage, Danko says. “Everybody’s still struggling just to try to figure out our next steps,” she says. “I have members gutting buildings that were completely flooded out. Some are recovering boats. Some that have sustained damage are getting things up and running, but we still have a whole number of facilities that don’t have power where owners are trying to work remotely or by satellite.”

Danko is working with the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and other marine trades associations to help get businesses the aid they need to recover. “We’re here to help whoever needs help,” she says. “We’re planning on reaching out to everyone in our industry, whether they’re a member or non-member.”

Communication was still spotty, making the endeavor difficult. Danko wanted to reach people such as Begovich, who had minimal damage to his office, compared with other business owners, but still had a financial hardship. Begovich says his floor is badly damaged but is covered by the insurance on the building where he rents space. The furniture and computers got wet, but he removed the server prior to the storm. What did get damaged isn’t covered under his insurance.

16_sandyThe real blow, however, has been the drop-off in business. Deals he was in the process of writing have fallen through, and few calls were coming in. “It was a very emotional time with my son today. He’s 30 and just got married,” Begovich says. “I said, ‘Be prepared for rocky times. We’re two months without work, and Dad can’t be unemployment. I can’t print money for you.’ ”

Adds Begovich: “When you’re running a business you have to plan for the worst and hope for the best. But realistically, two months are lost, and then we’re in the dead of winter. I probably won’t sell much more until February.”

Chris Squeri, executive director of the NYMTA, says his house is already gutted and that he was awaiting adjustors. “Some guys are in better shape than others. Some guys are totally devastated. Some of their docks are totally gone,” Squeri says. Compounding the situation is that many business owners also are dealing with damage to their homes.

Boats on land fared worse than those in the water. “The ones on land are trashed,” Squeri says. “The marinas took a beating. Even my marina, where I didn’t have any boats fall off stands or damage to any boats in the water — the service dock ramp was missing; another ramp was broken. Everyone’s just trying to crawl out and dig out of the mess they’re in. Hopefully FEMA comes in and helps. Our office doesn’t even have power yet, so we’re a little backlogged.”

FEMA usually addresses immediate concerns, and the NMMA is trying to alert businesses to the products the SBA offers, says Cindy Squires, the NMMA’s chief counsel for regulatory affairs. “The SBA is opening offices just for disaster relief,” Squires says. “There is a much more streamlined, new application process to make it much easier to get these loans because one of the complications is when you lose everything and apply for a loan, it’s not so easy to do when your records are gone. SBA has changed that process in the last few years to make it easier.”

Wall of water

The boats on land didn’t fare well because of the storm surge, which was at or above predictions. The “wall of water coming quickly in and moving back out” somewhat mirrored a tsunami, McCallum says. “We recorded elevations of more than 18 feet of water surface in Long Branch, N.J.,” he says. “Other areas with huge surges were around the west end of Long Island Sound.

“The force of the water was very strong in this event, and there is a great deal of water being pushed on land,” McCallum says. “The force of the water can certainly lift buildings and move cars and boats very easily. If it came in a quick rush like [many are] saying, it could deposit a ship or boat well away from where it was.”

The USGS thinks the waves recorded over 18 feet were attributable to the surge and waves on top of that. “There was something in that general area of Long Branch that caused the waves to go a little higher,” McCallum says “We’re not really sure what yet, but we’re still looking at it.

“What’s useful about all this information that we’re collecting, it not only allows people to track the storm in real time; we use this information to make storm tide models better for future forecasting,” he says. “Last year we used Irene data to help predict this storm.”

The lucky few

People don’t usually think the eye of the storm is a good spot to be, but Mark Allen, of the Strictly Boaters Boat Show in Cape May, N.J., says for him it was the luckiest spot. “You could watch the winds drop off to zero as we had eye passage,” Allen says. “Literally zero.”

He and Tim Keane, sales manager at Stone Harbor Yacht Sales in Stone Harbor, N.J., describe the sensation as eerie. “As the storm came right at us — it was wavering on whether it was going farther north or farther south. That’s where we were all holding our breath,” Allen says. “Since winds run clockwise, the worst place to be is that 1 o’clock quadrant.”

Prior to the storm, Keane said the only thing that would save them from Sandy’s wrath would be if the eye passed either north of the dealership or directly overhead. “Because it went over us the winds violently shifted so while they were north-northeast, they actually shifted west and took all that accumulated water and drained it out into the ocean inlet,” Keane says. “Suddenly the winds dropped to nothing, and the rain stopped, and I texted Tom [Russell, the owner] and said, ‘I’m pretty sure we’re in the eye right now.’ I feel like a guy who survived a 747 crash and walked away with a scratch on the nose.”

Despite the long road to recovery, Begovich sees a silver lining. “The one thing I can say is, people who are in boats now are the die-hard boaters. They got through the recession,” Begovich says. “There’s no way those people are going to be boatless.

“I mean, I don’t even know how all this work is going to get done, but it will,” Begovich says. “It’s going to be a windfall for certain people, and there’s going to be money injected into the economy and into the boating industry, so I think there will be a strong spell for while. I do. That’s my hope.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.

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