MANTOLOKING - After arriving at a couple of reporting assignments with smeared mascara, I've learned that anytime I have to drive through the wreckage that was once among the most quaint Jersey Shore beach towns, I have to steel myself against what I'm about to see again . or I'll just completely lose it.
In 34 years of reporting the news, I've seen some horrific stuff, but nothing quite compares to the wholesale devastation wrought Oct. 29 by Superstorm Sandy. The scenes remain jaw-dropping nearly 20 weeks after the storm hit.
Along sections of Route 35 through Ortley Beach, Normandy Beach, up through Bay Head and back into this town that was once an enclave of cedar shake cottages lovingly passed down through generations of families and opulent beachfront estates one more grand then the next, the destruction is staggering.
Entire homes ripped from their foundations and slammed up against the house across the street. Others where the flooding and winds made the walls collapse into themselves like a house of cards. Rooftops blown off and deposited on the beach a half block way. Buildings so shredded they look as if they were blown to smithereens in an explosion.
Not far from where waves are breaking around the infamous roller coaster that slid off the Seaside Heights boardwalk and into the sea during the storm, it's like a theme park horror ride as drivers rubberneck through a section of Normandy Beach where a scorched landscape of smashed houses, burned trees and upended vehicles appears on both sides of the roadway. It looks like the after-attack scene from a science fiction disaster film.
But it's very real. And all of it the handiwork of Sandy, a storm so powerful and that casts a memory so ugly that people around here who are named Sandy are coming up with other derivatives for their moniker.
Left over from last summer, in the window of an old Mantoloking beach house that looks a little weather-beaten, a sign notes the place is "Celebrating 132 Summers." It makes one wonder whether there will be a 133rd year here . and whether there will be anything to celebrate.
It'll probably take years for homeowners, contractors, utility crews, and state and municipal authorities to return the area to come semblance of normalcy. But it's the kind of scene that will remain seared into the memory of anyone who sees it up close.