Sandy devastates fragile New Jersey islands
Homes left in the wake of superstorm Sandy in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Photo: Mike Groll
To appreciate the delicate environment of the New Jersey barrier islands, think of something as fine as a long strand of tiny pearls running for miles along the coast.
Then think of the ferocious energy of superstorm Sandy; of whole houses floating in the water between the islands and the mainland and, even as late as today, of the 400 locals who sat out the storm now surrendering to evacuation by emergency crews.
The islands stretch north from Atlantic City almost as far as New York City. Evacuees who have straggled out from the islands have scattered, but about 200 of them who are hunkering in a shelter at Brigantine, three kilometres north of Atlantic City, were visited on Wednesday by President Barack Obama.
The suffering in this strip has been somewhat diminished, as attention is focused on the storm's colossal impact on millions in the nearby megapolis of New York.
But inspecting damage in the area, Mr Obama promised a co-ordinated federal-state effort to get people back in their homes as soon as possible — and if that was not practical, to ensure they got alternative assistance.
Flanked by New Jersey's Republican governor Chris Christie, Mr Obama said that no help would be withheld. Assistance would include military ships and helicopters, now joining the recovery operation.
Where Sandy has not ruptured access roads to the islands (such as the broken bridge on the road from Manahawkin to Long Beach Island), police road blocks are preventing property owners from returning, possibly for days or weeks to come. Police are also turning away an inevitable parade of rubber-necking sightseers.
About 100 Atlantic City residents who had refused evacuation ahead of the storm gathered near the wreckage of the city's fabled boardwalk, hoping that their numbers might persuade Mr Obama to re-route the presidential helicopter in their direction.
Their efforts were in vain.
Among the disappointed was 21-year-old Kamal Young, who was as proud of his decision to sit out the storm in his high-rise, beach-side apartment, as he was determined to be on the first evacuation bus if and when another hurricane threatened.
Why did he stay? "I needed to prove that I could depend on myself, so I got in supplies and decided I'd not put myself in danger," he said as he wandered among the great timbers that were the boardwalk, now scattered like so much kindling.
But what were those videos on his mobile phone, which he was showing to some TV crews?
"Man, it was incredible," he exclaimed. "I was on the boardwalk as it broke up. The winds were so strong that you had to hold the rails or be blown away ... and then you had to run to save yourself."
Atlantic City is still shuttered and its 12 casinos are eerily silent. Police have locked down the city, keeping out gamblers and residents — save for the diehards such as Kamal Young, who fills these empty days checking on the properties of friends and colleagues and keeping them posted by Facebook.