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Today, is a big day for many people in Ortley Beach, New Jersey. Those with utilities were allowed to move back into their homes full-time this morning. It's the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit more than three months ago. New Jersey takes in an estimated $37 billion in tourism and shore towns are racing to rebuild by the start of the summer season.
The ones that are ready could see a sunnier-than-usual tourist season packed with profits. From member station WNYC, Janet Babin reports.
KATHY CIVOLI: Where can my shed be?
JANET BABIN, BYLINE: On a street just west of Ortley Beach, New Jersey, Kathy Civoli is trying find her shed. Rebar and wires peek up from the sand on lots where houses used to be. Even months after Hurricane Sandy, neighbors are still trying to figure out what happened during the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But that house popped out, boom, boom, caught the pole.
CIVOLI: So it was the house across from me, Michelle, not in that, because I thought...
BABIN: Civoli spent 11 summers here. Now her two-story is splayed open like a doll house. But she says neighbors closer to the ocean are even worse off.
CIVOLI: I was the sixth house. Five houses are gone.
BABIN: Mayor Tom Kelaher says Sandy also took Ortley Beach's lifeguard headquarters. Inside was a first aid station, new restroom facilities, a place to buy beach passes and an observation deck.
MAYOR TOM KELAHER: Three stories. It was built on deep pilings, concrete slab, masonry walls, steel stairways and the first morning I got there, I look. I said, where is it? It was not tipped over. It was gone.
BABIN: All told, Kelaher says Sandy caused $35 million in municipal damage. He says putting the town back together again by tourist season will be challenging.
KELAHER: If it's not done by the beach time season, we'll get some mobile home-type vehicles to be the headquarters and you can buy these really nice portable trailer-type ladies' and men's restroom.
BABIN: But tourists put off by the prospect of porta-potties could decide to vacation elsewhere this summer, and that could bring a second wave of hardship to towns like Ortley Beach. As they struggle to find funding to rebuild what nature destroyed, their tourist season revenues could come up short. Seaside spots that escaped Sandy's wrath could see an influx of new tourists.
Like Cape May at the southernmost tip of the Jersey Shore. It sustained little damage. The town's Victorian architecture makes it a popular year-round destination. At the Lobster House Cafe on Cape May harbor, the counter is nearly full even in the off season. Owner Keith Laudeman says the buzz around town is that this summer, Cape May will be flush with tourists.
KEITH LAUDEMAN: Everybody's telling me we should be a little more busier because of all the devastation that happened, like above Atlantic City.
BABIN: Just off the beach, the Congress Hall Hotel in Cape May didn't even get flooded. On a recent Sunday night, the elegant bar is warm and lively. I meet up with Jack Wright. He publishes Exit Zero, a promotional publication in town. He says summer bookings in Cape May are up this year.
JACK WRIGHT: We're done already. You want to come here in July or August? You're not coming to Congress Hall and you're not coming to some of the more popular B&Bs. They're completely sold out, even more so this year because of Sandy affecting other Shore towns.
BABIN: But Wright is reluctant to celebrate another Shore town's misfortune. He says Cape May is new tourists may only stay for one season or the uptick in bookings could level off.
WRIGHT: People are very loyal to places on the Jersey Shore. Some people may go somewhere else completely different, rather than give up their favorite Jersey Shore town.
BABIN: So as hungry as some beach towns may be for new tourists, the effort may fall flat as visitors return to their favorite haunts the following year. For NPR News, I'm Janet Babin.
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