2 stories of storm survival

Staff Writer

New Jerseyans are used to a fastpaced way of life in the Garden State. Sandy disrupted that routine for millions of residents along the Shore and inland. For beach residents, the hybrid “Frankenstorm” challenged expectations and was merciless and merciful at times.

Michael Pellettiere, 62, of Ortley Beach, confronted Sandy on his turf. He decided to stay in his house, which is two blocks from the ocean and one block from Barnegat Bay. Thinking the storm would be similar to last year’s Tropical Storm Irene, Pellettiere did not think he would incur any major damage to the home he has lived in for more than 50 years.

However, “it turned out to be a nightmare,” he said.

He and a friend who stayed with him in the home first heard the wind and then the violent sound of shingles getting ripped off of the roof. Shortly after, the force of Sandy’s winds blew rain into the house through every crevice. They could not stop the water from entering.

“We were soaked inside the house and there was a mist everywhere,” Pellettiere said.

Then the water started rising inside the home rapidly.

“Within 10 minutes, there was a foot of water in the house,” he said. Ultimately, Pellettiere estimated he ended up with 6 feet of water in the home. “It felt like the house was moving,” he said.

When the storm was over, Pellettiere emerged from the severely damaged house along with his friend and saw his 2004 Cadillac had been relocated by the force of the water. When they saw first responders, they were told how to get off the barrier island to catch a bus that would take them to a shelter at Toms River East High School in Toms River.

They made their way to the bus and saw other evacuees who had brought their pets such as dogs. Pellettiere was amazed that one woman had brought her 300-pound pig onto the bus.

Pellettiere arrived at the shelter and stayed there for six hours. While there, he was able to call his cousin, Nancy Gurczynski, of Jackson, who picked him up and brought him to her home.

Pellettiere is now dealing with FEMA and his insurance company. With a damaged home and vehicle and no access to the barrier island, he contemplates the number of months before his life is back to normal. He said he would like to rebuild and return to Ortley Beach.

“I love it down here,” he said.

However, Pellettiere’s experience with being in “ground zero with the hurricane” has left him feeling more cautious these days. He admitted that if it rains more than an inch, “I will not be anywhere near the beach!”

Danielle and Scott Wall of Belmar decided to heed the warnings to evacuate their community ahead of Sandy’s arrival. Being only a couple of blocks away from the beach, they were convinced it was a good idea to leave. They retrieved their possessions and went to stay with a family member in Freehold.

Danielle credits Belmar officials for posting good preparation information on the municipal website which she could access through her iPhone.

“We were not blindsided by the storm,” she said.

They filled up on gas, packed up necessary items and took other preparatory measures. They have heard that their apartment was left unscathed by Sandy’s fury and are very grateful for that bit of good news. However, feeling displaced, they are eager to return even in the midst of reports of looting.

Danielle said one positive aspect of Sandy has been seeing the “humanity of people.” She noted that Belmar restaurants have been serving food to those in need.

“It is beautiful to see people helping each other,” she said.