Hurricane cleanup at Union Beach, New Jersey


For a couple of weeks I have been working to coordinate hurricane relief efforts in New Jersey as part of the Mormon Helping Hands organization. Although we’ve been organizing for a couple of weeks (and a number of work groups had already been dispatched to the New Jersey Coast and the Rockaways), this was the first chance I had to go out and work myself. After meeting with a small contingent of ward members, missionaries and friends, I went up to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, where we were given instructions and our trademark yellow vests and were then dispatched to Union Beach, New Jersey. It was an interesting sight to see: at first, all the houses seemed perfectly fine, but as you got closer to the beach, you would see houses with large piles of construction debris in the front yard. As you get to the beach, not only do you start to see the streets full of sand, but in the case of the first place we went, you began to see real destruction. The townhouse closest to the beach where we got started was completely gone, and neighboring houses were destroyed. The beach was fairly short with no dunes to speak of, let alone one properly anchored with dune grasses, so there was virtually nothing to hold the ocean back.From here we visited a number of places. Some had less work than others: in one instance we were only asked to rake some leaves, in another we were able to help a family move their undamaged possessions to the place where they would be staying in the meantime. However, the majority of our day was spent working on one house. There was water on the inside of the house up to about four feet. While we originally scoured the drywall and only ripped out the water-damaged part, it was later decided that it would be easier to repair if we just ripped out all the drywall. All the insulation had to go, as well as the ceiling (which had mold damage) and the floor. The poor owner had little more than her floor joists and wall studs.The worst part was helping the owner clean out their shed. We kept coming across photos, documents, and other personal mementos. We did the best we could to salvage what we thought was worth it, but so much of what we came across was just destroyed. I came home and told Holly that we really need to get something to store our personal items.

In regard to urban design, the beach lacked the sort of natural defenses described by McHarg, which is why the neighboring properties were hit so hard. As sad as it may be, parts of the beach may be safer if they are not rebuilt with housing, but with natural sand dunes and dune grasses to form a natural levee. The houses we worked in were on fairly small lots, which made it quite easy for us and the army of other responders to travel quickly from house to house offering help. Though some parts of the community have houses where there should be none, much of it is built at a density that makes disaster response easier to manage.

NOTE: If you live in the greater Philadelphia area and are interested in helping out on Saturdays or Sundays throughout November and December, please contact me or your local LDS Church representative.

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About Dave Munson
This blog is about architecture, cities, and myself.

One Response to Hurricane cleanup at Union Beach, New Jersey

  1. Heidi Van Woerkom says:

    Very cool report Dave. I just saw a piece on Mormon Times about the groups with Helping Hands and it was just sad to see the destruction Sandy caused. The people receiving help were so touched you could tell, one woman crying as she expressed her thanks and one older man, in his mid to late 70’s I’d say, was so funny he said something like, “they are just so darn positive and happy!” referring to us Mormons. 🙂 It was quite funny. I would love to be able to help with it, but alas I can’t. Keep up the good work!
    Aunt Heidi

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