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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."

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
Yawnnnnnn
Cartman March 23, 2013 at 01:43 AM
Impeach, finally, someone with a brain...........Thank you..

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