Keeping Watch Over A Battered Town

Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr., Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele and Township Council President James J. Byrnes recall the terrifying hours during Superstorm Sandy


The frantic call for help came from a Dogwood Drive resident as Superstorm Sandy bore down on Bayville. He had not heeded the call to evacuate.

"We had a man crying on the phone," Township Council President James J. Byrnes said. "That's when Karin looked at me and I looked at her. She said we had to go get him."

Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr., Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele and Byrnes sat down with Patch recently to recall how they tried to hold the town together after Sandy roared in. Four months later, they are still trying.

"It doesn't feel that long," DiMichele said. "It doesn't seem like it's been four months."

Prepping for the unimaginable

DiMichele, Amato, Byrnes and Emergency Management Coordinator George Dohn had held meeting after meeting during the days before the storm.

They constantly checked the increasingly ominous updates from the National Weather Service and could not believe what they were hearing. Sandy would make a hard left when she hit New Jersey. She would make landfall in Ocean County.

"We anticipated this storm was going to be for real," Amato said. "We were hoping it would be just like Hurricane Irene. Obviously, it was not."

DiMichele moved into police headquarters the Friday night before the storm. It would be the beginning of a long siege.

"I slept at the police department on a blow-up mattress," DiMichele said.

She spent two weeks away from her husband Thomas, a Toms River police officer, and their twin daughters.

"I'm very lucky," she said. I have my parents, his parents, our whole family lives in Bayville. I moved into headquarters on Friday night."

The couple took their girls to DiMichele's mother's home in Sonata Bay. 

"They thought it was a party," she said. "They had no clue of the severity of it, except when the tree fell on my mother's house."

Amato made arrangements for his wife and young son to stay with relatives, out of harm's way. He gave his generator to a resident that was ill and went to his brother's house down the street from his Pine Tree Drive home.

He ordered mandatory evacuations for most of Glen Cove, all of Good Luck Point, Berkeley Shores, South Seaside Park, Pelican Island and Toms River Shores.

Volunteer firefighters, police officers and emergency management workers spent most of that Friday night going door to door, advising residents of the mandatory evacuation. A member of each household had to sign a form acknowledging that if they refused to leave, emergency personnel would not be able to rescue them.

Byrnes spent much that evening before Sandy urging people in his Glen Cove neighborhood to leave and securing his Dogwood Drive home.

Rising waters, deadly winds

DiMichele pulled all police officers off the barrier island on Oct. 29, as conditions steadily worsened. Winds of 95 miles per hour were reported in South Seaside Park. The water in the back bays began to rise between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.

"It was after 5 p.m. when things started to get really bad," she said.

But despite all the preparations, nothing could have prepared them for Sandy. They hunkered down in Town Hall and the police department as weather conditions steadily deteriorated that night.

DiMichele, Amato and Byrnes watched in awe as transformer after transformer exploded on Pinewald-Keswick Road, lighting up the sky with an eerie blue glow. The power went out and stayed out.

"All of them blew," DiMichele said. "It looked like it was daylight out there. We had to get another generator to hook up."

Giant pines toppled like tenpins across the roadway and blocked the way to Town Hall, the police department and public works across the street.

"The downed trees were just unbelievable," Amato said.

Things got worse that night, when a section of the dilapidated Beachwood Shopping Center on Route 9 South caught fire. Firefighters battled the blaze - fed by the high winds - and dodged flying sheets of metal.

The height of the storm

And for a terrifying few hours, there was no way for residents to contact the police department, no way for police officers to talk to each other.

All that night the winds roared. The water rose in the streets and lagoons as the storm surge swept across the barrier island and Barnegat Bay and slammed into Bayville.

The water on Pelican Island rose to five feet. After the storm had died down, the chief saw people walking on the Thomas A. Mathis Bridge in their pajamas.

Bayview Avenue and Good Luck Point were under four and a half feet of water, impossible to get to without a boat.

At morning's light, Amato, DiMichele and Byrnes headed down to Butler Boulevard, which was under several feet of water. They met with members of the Bayville Fire Company - who were already exhausted from fighting the shopping center fire - the Pinewald Pioneer Fire Company, Manitou Park Fire Company, Berkeley Underwater Search and Rescue and "anyone willing to use their watercraft," DiMichele said.

They divided the waterfront sections of Bayville into sections and handed out maps to volunteers.

"We really needed more boats," the chief said.

Volunteers brought anything that could float and transport people - even kayaks and Jet Skis. Once residents were on dry land, Byrnes drove a bus to take them to the Bayville firehouse, DiMichele said.

From there many went to emergency shelters in Toms River, or found refuge with family members.

DiMichele has nothing but praise for the township's 70 police officers, some of whom lost their own homes.

"Not one of these officers ran from duty," she said. "They all came. Every single one of them."

Four months later, Amato, DiMichele and Byrnes are still trying to cope with the storm's aftermath.

"It's been very emotional," said Amato, who choked up while talking to residents at an information session two weeks after the storm. "We really do care. Put yourself in the individual's shoes. You want to do anything you can to help. I hear horror stories every day."

A frustrated Byrnes - who lost his home in the storm - is upset with delays in insurance payments to residents, FEMA's advisory base flood elevation maps and the slow pace of rebuilding.

"Nobody in my neighborhood is any better off than they were two weeks after the storm," he said at the March 11 Township Council meeting. "It's sad. It's a disaster."

foggyworld March 14, 2013 at 05:18 PM
I live in one of the battered areas and have to say I have found our Police Chief to be the most aware and cooperative person on this town's payroll. She truly has a mammoth task on her hands and is doing her very best with the limited resources available. And don't complain but get in touch with the Captain because she really does want to help us all resolve problems. And she is open to suggestions and does want to work with all of the residents in the war zones.
grace March 14, 2013 at 06:25 PM
reading this brings back the horror of that night! i am crying just thinking about it..thank you to the police and all first responders who saved many and asked for nothing....
Patrick Riley March 14, 2013 at 07:27 PM
The article will not change the fact that Mayor Amato allowed republican chairman George Gilmore to benefit from the misery of voters. Gilmore was on the Ashbritt payroll for clean up in Berkeley, and it cost taxpayers double. He will soon face the voters as his defeated school board team did last year.
Elizabeth McLain March 14, 2013 at 09:32 PM
Thanks to our police, fire, medics and those who did their very best. FEMA and the insurance fraud is a disgrace that needs to be addressed for those who have lost and suffered enough already. Time is up...they need to pay up.
angel March 14, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Ditto. Kudos to the Chief
Kevin T. Marshall March 14, 2013 at 11:08 PM
I live in the Mayor's neighborhood. My family was without power for over 7 days and without a generator. It deeply bothers me that Mayor Amato did not deem it safe for his wife and child to stay in Bayville while the rest of us suffered. Mayor Amato Abandoned his own home for the creature comforts of Heat and Power. Did he think handling the storm was beyond his capabilities? Why else would he send his family away while the people that voted for him were suffering? I am proud of the job Police Chief DiMichele did. She stepped up and the people of Bayville thank her. As for Mayor Amato, one has to wonder when the next crisis hits how soon will he flee.
brokeninbayville March 15, 2013 at 12:07 AM
Off track again.
Bayville Mom March 15, 2013 at 02:56 AM
Chief DiMichele is an asset to this town. She is a fearless true leader and her staff is dedicated and wonderful.
foggyworld March 15, 2013 at 07:50 PM
And for all that money charged, our area was not cleaned up.
Hart of Dixie March 15, 2013 at 08:35 PM
That fearless true leader makes $140,000.00 + + + per year. She is grossly over paid ! !
Hart of Dixie March 15, 2013 at 08:38 PM
Really Fog..... and how can you justify her salary ? We don't need 70 cops either. ooooooppppppsssssss.........sorry, off track
Bayville Mom March 15, 2013 at 09:16 PM
UUMM! If you read carfeully he STAYED and sent his family away. I kinda think that makes him a good dad and husband. Maybe he didn't have family IN Bayville like many of us that don't. My kids, my husband and I evacuated to Freehold. Does that make me less loyal to our town? No, it just means I didn't want my kids to have fear in a place that they should be comfortable and happy. Maybe the mayor felt the same way about his child. Maybe sending his family to where he knew they would be safe actually helped him handle the situation in town better knowing that it was one less worry on him. If you had someplace to go that had power then you should have gone there. I am sure no one would have faulted you.
grace March 15, 2013 at 10:28 PM
foggyworld having a friend who lives on evergreen i saw firsthand all the town did to help..the people of berkeley had so many things offerred to them...took begging in lacey and the methodist church was the only help.
Revenge March 16, 2013 at 05:30 PM
Why are you people praising these professionals for doing their jobs ? This is what they get paid to do. And I agree with you Hart. The chief is overpaid, $140,000.00+ in Bayville, a small shore town. And we don't need 70 cops. This isn't Newark or Camden. Bayville is a dump, NJ sucks. And I can't wait to get the hell out of here. You people better wake up ! !
Fight Club March 16, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Raises and Re-Election for everyone !!!!!!!
Walking Dead March 17, 2013 at 05:10 PM
An ASSET to the town ! ? ! ? She is a tremendous expense to the taxpayers of Bayville.
fraburger March 17, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Chief did and does a tremendous job as the leader of the Polie and Emergency Management! This was/is a tremendous disaster Im glad we had her leadership through the crisis! The town leadership as a whole did very well considering what they were faced with.. All the haters gonna hate and complain about her salary and how we don't need so many cops bla bla bla. I m glad we have them and they def earned their money this year. Bayville is not Mayberry so wake up! Thank you Berkeley Police and especially your Chief!!! Where can I donate?
Tired of Idiots March 17, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Just curious as to the posters who insist that Berkeley Township does not need 70 officers. The 49th largest city out of 565 municipalities, with a population of 42,000, which is wrong but what census says, does not need 70 officers to patrol 42 square miles 24 hours a day according to the posters here. I would love to know they believe is adequate police coverage!
Samantha March 17, 2013 at 11:11 PM
Alot of our neighbors, young and old, do not think Bayville needs 70 police officers. They also believe the chief makes too much money. This conversation has been going on for the last couple years. It has been addressed at town meetings because I was in attendance. I don't know how many cops the town needs and I don't really care. As a family, we made the decision to leave NJ and start a new life down south.
impeach1 March 18, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Let's start with.
impeach1 March 18, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Why have Seaside Park police patrol the island and the BT police as well? The BT police should be patrolling, not sitting idle in an unobscure spot. We could save at least 3 salaries there(3 x 8 hour shifts), SP responds to all the SSP island emergencies anyway, why have duplication of services? Seems like a waste of taxpayers money to have a BT police officer sitting idle on the island and not patrolling.
Cartman March 23, 2013 at 01:42 AM
Cartman March 23, 2013 at 01:43 AM
Impeach, finally, someone with a brain...........Thank you..


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