Angry residents of the barrier island town areas from Ortley Beach to Seaside Park jammed the Holiday Inn on Route 37 in Toms River for a meeting that turned out to be little more than a chance to complain.
Drawn by Internet postings about a meeting that many thought would be an opportunity to get information from their towns, residents who've been waiting days to return to the island to collect belongings or check their homes were left even more frustrated than they were before.
"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen," said an employee of the Holiday Inn, who walked out onto the sidewalk around the hotel to get a breath of fresh air, as people milled about, waiting to see if they could get inside.
Along Route 37, Toms River police blocked entrances to the hotel's parking lot and diverted Clifton Avenue drivers east on 37, away from the hotel, as every available parking space was taken and the lawn in front of the building filled up with cars.
"No elected officials showed up," said Phil Daloisio, owner of Lenny's Pizzeria in Lavallette, the frustration apparent in his voice. "They won't tell us anything."
The lack of information was the biggest complaint voiced by many who had come to the meetings. Residents of the Toms River beach communities, as well as Lavallette and Seaside Heights, fueled in part by anger over the access given Monday to residents of the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township and of Seaside Park, voiced anger over the lack of information and questioned whether officials were being honest about the dangers.
"Every time you see photos (from the barrier towns) there are people walking around," one man said. "How is it safe for other people and not for us?"
Reports that the bridges and roads were not safe drew derision.
"If they're not safe for us, how can they drive those heavy trucks over them?" another man said. "It doesn't make sense."
In the ballroom, a man commanding the microphone doled out information on what residents should to if and when they get the chance to return, including how to quickly winterize pipes to prevent them from bursting.
That focus upset Seaside Heights residents who rent, who came thinking they would get information on what options they have now.
"I barely have family, I barely have friends," said Danielle Hernandez, who fled Seaside Heights with her children -- Evan, 9, Angelina, 7, and Gisella, 5. "Where do we go?"
"We're beach people," said Kathy Gleason, who lived in Seaside Heights with her husband, her daughter Meghan, and Meghan's three children. "We have no place to live now."
"I just want my stuff," said Jennifer Lively, another Seaside Heights resident. "Nothing against anyone else," she said, referring to the dozens of efforts to collect clothing for those displaced. "I just want my stuff."
"We understand there's danger," said one woman from Lavallette, who would only identify her husband. "We just want to secure our homes. We followed all the rules (and evacuated)."
"I think they (officials) are just learning things minute by minute," said Daloisio, "but right now everyone's afraid of mold, everyone's afraid of pipes freezing."
"We just want some answers," he said.