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Beach Towns Mourn Sandy-Ravaged Boardwalks

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Hurricane Sandy left a long trail of destruction across the New Jersey shoreline. And it did a lot more than just flood houses.

In towns like Seaside Heights and Belmar, Sandy wiped out the boardwalks that line the beach. In places like these, boardwalks served as the commercial center knitting the towns together, and residents are wondering where to go from here.

Until two weeks ago, the boardwalk was the place to hang out in Belmar, N.J. Ann Summer was walking along the water with her husband this weekend.

"I think it was part of the heart of Belmar. Any time of year if it was a nice day, all of a sudden it would look like summer. There would be people jogging, riding bikes, walking their dogs, sitting on the boardwalk, reading newspapers ... there were always people on the boardwalk," Summer says.

That all ended when Sandy came to town. The storm splintered most of the boardwalk and scattered the pieces all over the shoreline.

Shaun McGrath and Peter Franconeri were standing along Ocean Avenue this weekend surveying the damage.

"I couldn't get out of my house. The boardwalk was at my front door so I couldn't open my front door," McGrath said.

"The boardwalk was loosened, right? And in one wave it was just picked up and brought here, in one wave," Franconeri said.

"Yeah," McGrath said.

Pieces of the boardwalk now sit in the front yard of Franconeri's condo complex. Franconeri asks me if I want to take one home as a souvenir.

"You want a small piece? I'm serious. We're going to take a piece and write, 'Gone to the beach' on it," Franconeri says.

Not far away sits a bench that once sat on the boardwalk and was swept here by the flood waters. The storm wiped out a pavilion that served as a kind of community center. It also destroyed whole restaurants and stores that once lined the boardwalk.

The destruction of the boardwalk is likely to be felt by Belmar businesses for a long time. The Mayfair Hotel sits across the street from what was once the boardwalk. The storm tore the siding off the building and flooded a basement clubroom. Today there are huge mountains of sand and debris blocking the access to the beach. Owner Pat Entwistle has stopped accepting most guests.

"Devastated. Right now I'm sure right now no one would want to come here to stay. Except the workers from out of town," Entwistle says.

The same kind of destruction can be seen up and down the coast. In Seaside Heights, the boardwalk was largely swept out to sea and an iconic roller coaster was destroyed. Ironically, the most famous boardwalk of all, in Atlantic City, was largely spared. Over the weekend, the city held a kind of mass stroll along the boardwalk to publicize the fact that it was still standing.

City officials say the boardwalk was spared in part because of a dune reclamation project that blocked the water from coming too far inland. Still, Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, says many people think the boardwalk took a big hit.

Tourism is down. Cartmell says many of the city's tourists usually come from New York and New Jersey, and they have other things on their minds right now.

"I mean, people just weren't ready. They were sweating their electricity, they couldn't leave their house. In the north, they were in gas lines. So it was a huge impact to us," Cartmell says.

New Jersey officials say they will rebuild the boardwalks in places like Belmar. But with so much destruction, it could take years to complete. Gov. Chris Christie said last week that the rebuilding needs to be done in a smarter way to protect the beaches the next time a bad storm hits.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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