Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Seaside Heights

When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the Jersey shore on October 29, 2012, the iconic beach town of Seaside Heights was changed forever. Monster waves and crushing storm surge collapsed Casino Pier and Funtown Pier, tossing roller coasters into the angry Atlantic ocean. Beachfront souvenir shops and pizza parlors on the boardwalk were flooded and swept away. The historic boardwalk long enjoyed by vacationing families for generations was severely damaged and eventually demolished by town officials after the storm. 

Shortly before Sandy hit the coast of New Jersey, martial law was declared in Seaside Heights. Police checkpoints sprung up at entry points to the barrier island and law enforcement patrolled the bay between the island and Toms River, N.J. to prevent looters, residents, gawkers, and media from gaining access to the devastation. Three days after the storm, the Police Chief of Seaside Heights allowed a few reporters and photographers to access the island under Police supervision for a few short minutes. I was fortunate enough to jump onto a small mini-bus full of photographers from local, national, and international media outlets to be ferried over the causeway into Seaside Heights on a media tour of sorts. With only 10 minutes allotted to shoot at each pier, I scrambled over debris quickly composing, shooting, and moving to avoid being caught in the pack of swarming media. The destruction was total, striking, bizzare. Over the next month all I could think about in my spare time was trying to get back to Seaside Heights with more time and better light to photograph. I got that chance on December 1st, just after the 1-month anniversary of the storm. I arrived on the island before sunrise to find the police checkpoints largely unmanned, which made access to the boardwalk very easy. Throughout the day I had a few run-ins with State Troopers with varying levels of tolerance for my presence, but I was largely free to roam and photograph in the beautiful morning light. Success!

The Star Jet roller coaster that once operated on Casino Pier sits in the Atlantic Ocean off of Seaside Heights, N.J. after being placed there by Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Superstorm Sandy made landfall on the coast of New Jersey on October 29, 2012. By the time it was all said and done, 7.5 million people were left without power, dozens were dead, and damage in the billions stretched throughout multiple states up and down the Atlantic Seaboard. Americans had never seen a storm as large or devastating as Sandy and may never see one again in their lifetimes. It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime.

Sandy was the first hurricane I had ever covered. I learned a lot about being prepared, risk management, gaining access to restricted areas, working under martial law, and identifying with my subjects. I rented an SUV and loaded it up with bottled water, non-perishable food, towels, plastic bags to use as rain covers for my cameras, A/C power supplies, cans of fix-a-flat, waders, boots, and lots of rain gear. Not knowing how bad the damage would be, I was prepared to spend a week or more living out of my car. Because fuel is always hard to come by after hurricanes, I had a reserve supply of 12 gallons in fuel cans in my trunk and made sure to top off at gas stations whenever I could. 

In all I spent 6 days out covering the Sandy and her aftermath, not including follow-up trips in the weeks after. Covering a storm of that magnitude was simultaneously terrifying, exciting, and heartbreaking all at the same time. I worked solo for the first few days, then met up with my good friend Mark Wilson of Getty Images. It was great having a friend to watch eachothers' backs, bounce ideas off one another, and share pop-tarts and bacon jerky with.

Look for another Sandy post from me in the coming days focusing on the town of Seaside Heights, N.J.

 A television news anchor tries to dodge a wave from the Atlantic ocean that crested the boardwalk in Rehoboth, Del. as Hurricane Sandy approaches the East Coast on October 29, 2012. Luke Sharrett for The New York Times