ASBURY PARK, N.J. (USA TODAY) -- Had a bully of a storm not cold-cocked this mythic corner of the Jersey Shore just 319 days ago, the breathtaking fire that chewed up a chunk of the boardwalk through Seaside Park and Seaside Heights on Thursday would still have been disastrous.
the timing and context of it gave this fire an extra, emotional
dimension for those who witnessed it, whether at the scene, on TV or
over the Internet. The Jet Star coaster may have been removed months
ago, but the trauma of Superstorm Sandy still lingers. It somehow made
the smoke that much blacker, the losses of businesses and jobs that much
greater, the still-unfolding story of the fire that much sadder.
horrible. Why is God doing this to us again?" asked a distraught Connie
Hawkins, a Sandy victim from the Ortley Beach section of Toms River,
who rushed to the scene after spotting the smoke while she was at the
bank, depositing her FEMA check, no less.
"How much more can we take?"
were flashbacks from the storm: Utilities were cut off. The Route 37
bridge was shut down. The governor was there, looking very grave. All
day, the bad news spread on social media, even faster than the fire.
has been a long and emotional day for all of us here at Maruca's
Pizza," read a Facebook post from the iconic Seaside Heights boardwalk
pizzeria. "I am very sad to notify everyone that our building has been
damaged and potentially destroyed by the fire."
Was this really
happening? The borough of Seaside Heights, which raced the calendar to
finish the extreme makeover of its storm-damaged boardwalk in time for
Memorial Day, had scheduled a bonfire on the beach this weekend to
celebrate its centennial.
The festival is called "New Heights," but this is a new low.
strong, we're Jersey Strong, but enough is enough," said Leo DiBella,
owner of Bippy's Pizza, located two blocks inland from the fire.
"When is it going to end already?"
Michael Tierney, a councilman in Seaside Park, could scarcely believe what he was seeing.
"They're all gone again," he said of the businesses succumbing to the flames.
Dorsey's little pong game stand was defenseless against such a blaze.
The 21-year-old had invested nearly $10,000 to open the stand on Labor
Day weekend. It was his first business venture, which he'd hoped would
make enough money to pay down his student loans.
"I was thinking
about running in there and taking my prizes, but it was way too late,"
Dorsey said. "I'm just speechless. It probably won't hit me until
tomorrow when I realize I'm not going in to work."
daylong spectacle of towering plumes of smoke and windswept flames
conjured images of the doomed Morro Castle cruise ship and the crash of
the Hindenburg, disasters that were seared into the memories of earlier
generations at the Shore.
Jennifer Katz said the smoke reminded
her of the billowing cloud at Ground Zero that she saw from her home in
Brooklyn 12 years ago this week.
The 20-year-old, who had moved to
an apartment in Seaside Heights a month ago, described a scene of
"complete chaos" near the fire Thursday afternoon.
burning debris were raining down on the boardwalk and beach. A child
near her was choking on the smoke. A woman whose condominium unit caught
fire was in a panic.
"She was just in the street screaming,
saying she was going to have a heart attack," said Katz, who has
first-aid training and tried to lend assistance.
"It's devastating," Katz said. "All the progress that we made from Sandy is completely gone."
Some said they feared that the fire might turn out to be even more damaging than Sandy.
hurricane took out some of the boardwalk. It was salvageable," said
Sherry Jacoby of Seaside Park. "You ain't salvaging nothing from this."