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November 09, 2012

Hurricane Sandy’s Fury: A New Jersey Fishing Writer’s Story of Devastating Loss

Homeowners Still Locked Out 11 Days After Storm, Two New Inlets Formed

Two weeks ago — on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 28 — I walked up to the beach with a rum and cider in my hand, slogging through 40-knot northeast winds and driving rain, and saw the waves already tearing at the roots of the sand dunes. The beach was already gone. The dug-out sand damage looked like a three-day Nor’easter had already moved through, and Hurricane Sandy wouldn’t make landfall in New Jersey for another 40 hours. This was going to be bad.

Nobody could have truly predicted how bad it was going to be, at least for me. I’m supposed to write this blog to tell my story, but I’m going to cut to the chase: I lost everything. My home was one of 80-some houses that caught fire in Normandy Beach during the height of Sandy’s wrath. It burned viciously and unforgivingly with 80-knot winds and free-flowing natural gas from broken pipelines fueling the fire.

The fire was topped off by an eight-foot tsunamilike storm surge from the Atlantic that completely obliterated anything and everything in its path, sweeping all the remnants of houses, telephone poles, concrete and asphalt into the bay or drawing them out to sea. Everything I’ve ever owned was destroyed. My house wasn’t a summer beach getaway, it was my year-round home. I’m a full-time writer and photographer in the fishing industry, and all my photos, hard drives, and fishing gear — amassed over the past 15 years — were destroyed.

While widespread destruction plagued the entire Northeast, the New Jersey Coast was considered the hardest hit, and my area of beach at Camp Osborn at Mantoloking was Ground Zero. This isn’t an easy column to write. My home stood 150 yards from the beach, and it served as a fishing sanctuary for many of my friends and family — a place to hang out and enjoy the sport of fishing or just get away from the stresses of the day. This isn’t only my story: Many of my immediate neighbors and people from other states also got crushed by Sandy as their houses also burned and were swept away.

As I am writing this, it has been 11 days since Sandy decimated my home. We still aren’t able to access the area due to the incredible destruction — especially with two new inlets now breaking the island apart. So post-storm has been nothing but a sick waiting game.

We can’t get in to see where our houses were, which contributes to an endless anxiety. I don’t know if any of my personal possessions are strewn about the area, though I’ve seen aerial photos and video from Blackhawk helicopters, showing that my house is wiped off the map, and most likely everything in it has burned or melted.

It’s a never-ending delay of closure. So this is where I sit after the storm: nothing but a pair of jeans, shoes, two flannel shirts, my Jeep, laptop, camera and cell phone. That’s what I packed and took when I evacuated, thinking I’d be back in a day or two, and now that’s all I own. Oh, and a pair of fishing slicks I threw in my Jeep before the storm.

What also really hurts is that I no longer have any fishing rods, reels, lures, tackle or gear. That, however, will be one of the first things to change. Since I can’t dwell on the fact that the National Guard will not let us on the island to see our homes, or plots of land where they were, and might not for months, I look forward to borrowing some rods from my friends and going fishing.

The striped bass fall run is here in full effect, and though many boats were waffled and destroyed, with vessels sitting bottoms-up in roadways, one of one friend’s boats weathered the storm and is ready to fish. People handle tragedy and adversity differently, and for me, it’s all about staying strong and moving forward, and I believe dropping a line down off the coast is just the medicine the doctor ordered to bring some peace of mind and normalcy back to my life.

 

Next report: status of coastal New Jersey’s marinas, beaches, ramps and fishing.

Editor’s Note: Employees of Bonnier Corporation, which owns Sport Fishing, have set up a fund for Nick, who worked for this company for two years. If you would like to contribute, please visit http://nickymagnum.chipin.com/nick-honachefsky-fund.