ANDY ZAHN: Remembering a REAL March Storm (1962)
By ANDY ZAHN
Cape Charles Wave
March 9, 2015
Long Beach Island, NJ, “14 miles of beach 6 miles at sea.” That’s what the sign says. Connected to the mainland by a causeway and a high level bridge. The bridge was built in 1957-1958 and replaced the old drawbridge. The drawbridge, no longer in use, was shipped to Chincoteague where perhaps millions of people used it to see the Pony Penning and enjoy the ocean as well as enjoy the Oyster and Seafod Festivals.
In 1962 we were new to the area and very broke. We rented a house in Manahawkin for $75 a month and were about eaten alive by the Jersey mosquitoes. Manahawkin is on the west side of the causeway, so logically we crossed over the bridge and bought a 60′ x 100′ lot from the town of Ship Bottom for around $2,500. There were several lots for sale in an area created by material dredged from the bay, and we selected the one with the highest elevation.
We joined the Teachers’ Credit Union, hocked the title to the car, wheeled and dealed and finagled (I was a math teacher), and had a tiny three bedroom house erected on our lot for around $9,000, bought a washer, dryer and refrigerator, and for about $13,000 we were homeowners! The mortgage was 20 years at 6% and principal with interest came to $65 a month! My first monthly payment reduced the principal by 10 cents and so we made extra principal payments to speed thing up.
Ship Bottom is about a mile wide from the ocean to the bay and we were a few houses from the bay. On the 5th of March we walked on the beach by the ocean and it was flat calm. I never saw the ocean so calm with not any breakers. Wally Kinan, the weatherman on TV, gave no hint of any unusual weather the next day.
When I awoke on March 6 the wind was from the northeast and howling. Driving rain mixed with snow. The new high school was already overcrowded and the 7th and 8th grades came in on a late shift, so I just watched the storm and waited to go to work.
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When the buses arrived at the school with the older kids they were waved around and sent back home. That for the Islanders involved two trips over the causeway in a raging storm and then two trips on the boulevard up and down the Island. For the buses north on the Island to Barnegat Light a new inlet was cut through, and had a school bus been there at the time we could have had a disaster. School was closed and so I wasn’t going anywhere.
Tide after tide came in and didn’t go back out and we had about 2″ of water on our lot while down the street it was over a car’s engine hood. At one point I went out on our front deck and the only thing out of the water was the top of the sand dunes. I could see breakers smashing against ocean front houses. The storm continued for three days and we just stayed put.
The house behind us had a small boat, and I tied it to my side deck — just in case! Bundles of cedar siding were floating by, and I opened the gate to my sons’ play area and guided them to where they would wait for the builder to come and get them.
After three days the wind had backed around and was from the west and the tide went out. Our street was dry so I went out for a drive around town. The roads were OK, but the boulevard had thousands of tons of sand on it and a huge two-story house was right in the middle of the road. Oceanfront homes were gone, with gas and water pipes sticking up where the homes once were.
All through the storm we had everything we needed — water, gas and electricity. We lived only a few blocks south of the causeway so we decided to leave and visit my parents who lived in Neptune and of course were worried. The road was fine, the causeway was fine, and like any other day we went to Neptune and back — except on the way back the NJ State Police had a roadblock and had closed the causeway.
Here we were, six of us, the youngest less than a month old, a perfectly good house with good roads, and not permitted to go home. My school was where refugees from the storm were sheltered and the town fathers in their wisdom had the good sense to build the new school on the mainland where it would be out of harm’s way. We went to the school and I taught one class of math in the music room, so that’s where they put us. It was first class! A large room, cots and bedding supplied by Fort Dix, along with a generator, and a bathroom of our own!
The teachers pitched in, working in the cafeteria and serving meals. Much food was supplied by local businesses. I was helping with food when all of a sudden the Red Cross appeared. We were made to take a walk while those with the arm bands took over and the flash bulbs went off. As suddenly as that happened they left and the teachers went back to work.
Our school was closed for a solid week and we had to make up days by holding classes on Saturdays. They made it clear that the kids did not have to attend but that the school had to be open for 180 days. We were in the music room for three days and only then were the refugees permitted to go home.
Going home was a “production.” We were not allowed to take our cars; we had to get on the school buses. The TV cameras were in place, and not until they said so could the buses roll. On each bus there was a “civil defender” and when the bus stopped at our house the “defender” got out and decided if we would be permitted to stay there. Our house was fine and we had permission to go back to having a life. This whole episode so turned me against the high-handed antics of the authorities that I would rather face fire, flood, or whatever than ever leave my home.
They weren’t through with us yet. We were still not allowed to fetch our cars from the school parking lot. Looting, they said. The house across the street was a duplex and rented to summer people. The owner was an FBI agent and stayed in one of the apartments at times. He was a great guy, full of fun and had a bunch of kids. One day they left for the city and the youngest came to our house “They forgot me.” A while later they returned and retrieved their boy.
All the people who rented the other apartment were FBI, and this was before cell phones. On a regular basis one would ask “Can I use your phone.” After the storm we had helicopters and Army trucks all over the place. I see a jeep with a National Guard Colonel and my neighbor and I tell him I can’t get my car. WELL! The police chief of Long Beach Island Township, Angelo J. Leonetti, got killed in the storm, and I went with my neighbor to the viewing in Barnegat and on the way back stopped and got my car.
Just a word about storms and weather. They always were and always will be.