To most, it’s a name synonymous with Shore towns and yes, a New Jersey town that survived Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters. But to the people of Long Branch, the name no longer belongs to them.
For years, the city, which is home to roughly 19,000 people and covers about 80 square miles, has been trying to rebound from the devastation of Sandy. At the time of the storm, there were only 6,900 residents, so the death toll and destruction were huge, though there’s reason to be optimistic. For instance, the number of active gas stations has increased from 14 to 26. The block and a half neighborhood that was flooded and destroyed has been re-cleared.
At a community meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Mitch Musto, the mayor of Long Branch, had a hopeful outlook.
“The ocean has passed,” he said, in part, “but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
He told the audience that he wanted to talk about “everything in moderation.” He also said that the community of Long Branch is like “a big orange tent, and there are three seasons: summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
The mayor continued: “People make mistakes, and that’s why we have education and corrections. And once we finish out these remedial phases, we’ll be ready to sell the tent.”
Bob Fishman, the school superintendent, also shared a lot of hope about the future. He recalled that some of the schools — such as the Harbor Academy and the Long Branch High School — that were heavily damaged by Sandy had students retake the first year of the school year in English class. He said that at Long Branch High School, he hadn’t seen students since before the storm and he thought about how hard they’d worked to achieve what they achieved.
“When I saw the boys and girls jump in,” he said, “I thought, ‘We’re all going to be OK.’”
This year, the high school with be rebuilding its power plant and bringing back its track team. There will also be new science teachers.
“It is an exciting time in the school district,” Mr. Fishman said.
When the audience asked about the impact of the hurricane on the town, Mr. Fishman focused on the power plant. He said that the loss of the power plant meant fewer jobs in Long Branch, and that there was about $14 million in damage to it. The community also has to deal with rebuilding efforts at 20 other buildings that were damaged by the storm, and there is uncertainty about whether the residents’ homes will be removed from the flood zone.
Many people in Long Branch still feel stuck. There’s little land for open space and parks, and they are concerned about raising the road around their homes. As for the cause of so much destruction, Mr. Fishman could only offer more uncertainty: “You can give the finger to the weather and the ocean, but you don’t know what the other’s doing.”