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The Storm That Swallowed A House

The Storm That Swallowed A House

This is the moment when I knew this storm was like none other I had experienced.

Our community of Grassy Sound, in southern New Jersey, sits on a channel that captures flows from the Atlantic Ocean. In summer, boats pass by, and people fish, spending their summers here. It’s awesome place to relax, and enjoy waterfront living.

Hurricane season is always a threat. But the nor’easter of early October 2015 was unlike any other.

I ran out of my house when I heard that, whipped by severe winds, our neighbor’s house was collapsing into the rushing tides. It was the last house on the boardwalk, and when I approached it, I felt like I was witnessing the sinking of a ship.

The contents of the house were floating everywhere. The tide was high above the boardwalk I was standing on.

I snapped this picture, stared at this bizarre event happening in front of me, and then decided it might be safer to get out of there before the house completely disintegrated.

It did eventually get swept up into the current, passing by all of our houses like a leisure boat cruising by.

To call this “bizarre” would be an understatement. The house eventually settled in the back bay of the Grassy Sound Channel.

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The house that was swept into the bay.

The following day, we rushed to repair the damage. Many boards had been taken out, and we worked against the tides, to get things fixed. Below is a photo I took at high tide. During storms like these, tides can rise well above the boards. On this day, it rose about a foot above the boardwalk, and the winds made the currents strong. That created even more flood damage, by loosening boards and pilings.

The boardwalk at high tide, the day after the nor’easter.

The tide started rising again, and I snapped the photo below from a neighbor’s deck. Looking down on the boardwalk, you can see that the water is reaching several houses, and rising well above the boards. The storm destroyed railings and boards, and caused flood damage to the interiors of some of the lower-lying houses.

The effects of the rising tide, in the aftermath of the storm.

Here is another view of the high tide. I am wading in the water in my boots. You can see in the distance men wading through and working on the boardwalk, repairing damage. They were also clearing debris left by the house that fell into the channel. Many parts of that house ended up damaging properties along its path, and settling in parts of our community that aren’t safe during storms. We had to clear the debris before another high tide came, because the debris could be swept up in the tide once again, and cause even more damage. The waves from the tide are being created by wind, and when they hit the boardwalk, they splash everywhere.

Waves splashing the boardwalk.

Two days after the storm, after the weather had calmed down, we hopped on jet skis. We rode out to the house that had floated into the bay. It was very odd seeing it in the water. The symbolic circular window that used to sit at the end of the boardwalk, at the peak of the last house, was now submerged. The house must have been laying on a mud flat, because we could see the top. Other parts of the house floated around nearby.  There was also a piece of deck with the railing still attached to it. A seagull was perched on top.

It was odd to see this house, a sort of landmark at the end of the boardwalk, with its iconic circular window, submerged in the bay.

The house below was also damaged in the storm.  It was among those hit by the house that was swept away. Its deck was almost completely destroyed by the impact.

I took this photo from the jet ski.  The winds mixed with the tides mixed with an entire house floating by had caused all this destruction. These are people’s summer homes. Some people even live here year round.

The deck of a neighboring house was clipped by the destroyed house as it floated by — one of several other homes damaged this way.

Our house at Grassy Sound has been in my family for my entire life. I spent my childhood creating fun summer memories with my family here.

I’m 25, and I can’t remember the storms ever being so bad. Although it was amazing to watch, this storm frightened me. I hold my house dear to my heart, and the storm was an eerie reminder that Mother Nature spares no one.

Our house suffered little damage in that storm. However, there was more flooding in January 2016, and our deck took a beating. Our steps detached and floated away; so did our floating dock.

We can repair the damage; we are fortunate not to have lost anything else.  Another family who lives in Grassy Sound year round lost their entire front deck.

But it’s eerie that these two storms, in a single year, have caused the more damage to this community than I have ever seen.

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Twitter: @audysnow Hometown: Cape May, N.J. Professor: Nat Clymer Class: Photojournalism Takeaway: I learned about the power of a storm, the vulnerability of its victims, and the calm that can follow. And I learned that you have to take risks to get good shots. It is easy to go and capture something still, but when a house is transformed into a sinking ship right in front of you, you have to think and act fast, if you want to document it. When I took the pictures of the house in the bay a day later, the weather was sunny and beautiful, as if there had been no storm at all. It was difficult to imagine what could have caused the migration. Although I witnessed the house detaching and moving in the current the night before, with the sun and beauty of the day, I found myself thinking, “How did it get here?”


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