Brick hopes to allow its barrier island residents and property owners to be able to drive to their properties in their own vehicles "soon," but the township needs state approval first.
"We hope it will be soon, we hope it's within days," said Mayor Stephen Acropolis, on a bus tour Thursday of many of the township's Sandy-ravaged waterfront and low-lying sections. "We're just waiting for some construction work to be cleared, for Route 35 to be opened and for approval from the state Department of Transportation."
On Thursday morning, Acropolis, Police Chief Nils Bergquist, other police officers and the National Guard traveled by police-escorted bus with a limited number of media to tour the township's barrier island and other damaged areas for a few hours.
Reporters were able to see, for a limited period of time, some of the worst damage on the bayfront, oceanfront and along Route 35 and Mantoloking Road as well as the staging areas and command post where township police, the National Guard and the military run their 24-hour security operation on an island that has no working utilities.
"Only Lavallette has some utilities because they have some of their own," Acropolis said. "But there's nowhere to pump the water, so I don't think I would want to live there right now."
Oceanfront homes on Ocean Terrace, in Brick and continuing across the border into Toms River, were heavily damaged, sitting as gutted shells of their former selves, about 30 yards from the ocean, with a heavily eroded beach in between. Many had been gutted by the sheer force of Sandy's raging surf. Another house had been cut off at its foundation and dropped into the sand. It looked like a scene out of the "Wizard of Oz" and one expected to see the legs of the Wicked Witch sticking out from under the crumpled mass.
So far, all of Brick's barrier island residents, who wanted to do so, have made at least one trip on police-escorted buses to their properties to check on them and take some personal belongings, Acropolis said. Two people per household have been permitted.
Acropolis said he has been on many of those bus trips and residents' reactions to seeing their homes for the first time have varied greatly because some have been devastated while others sustained only minor damage.
There are 132 homes in all of Brick Township that are considered "totalled," Acropolis said. He noted that while many oceanfront houses were badly damaged or, in some cases, knocked off foundations and swept away, there was also a lot of damage to bayfront homes. He said some homes with their backs to Barnegat Bay simply have no more backs.
Of the 132, 110 to 120 of those are on the barrier island. Of those barrier island homes, they are either "gone" or so severely damaged that police could not allow residents to enter them to pull out even a few personal items, said Bergquist.
When asked how residents reacted to having to turn around on the bus without so much as one personal momento from their destroyed homes, Bergquist replied, "We've had grief counselors on all of the buses. And, yes, they've been used."
As the media tour bus drove east on Mantoloking Road, Acropolis began to narrate the tale of destruction.
"See this boat on the side of the road, that had been in the road," Acropolis said, as the bus drove east on Mantoloking Road.
"See that sailboat tipped over, a lot of them were like that," the mayor said. "A lot of clean up has already been done."
A lot of clean-up has already been done, but so much destruction remains.
As one travels east over the newly-repaired Mantoloking Bridge, and looks to the left, you can see a house sitting in the Barnegat Bay next to an island.
Driving down the newly-fixed end of the bridge, which had been easily washed away by Sandy, you can see a wall of steel sheeting that was built within the last few days parallel to Route 35.
The wall is to protect what's left of the oceanfront, the chief explained.
"The dunes were gone, the structures were gone, something needed to be done," he said. "Sand will be pushed up against that."
To the right of the bridge is a brown house that seems to be sitting loose in the water.
"That's the house that came off its foundation and hit the bridge," Acropolis told the reporters. "The bridge was checked and it's OK."
Acropolis said the state Department of Transportation "has done a fantastic job" clearing roadways and cleaning up and is still working on it.
"You wouldn't believe the difference between now and 10 days ago," he said.
At some point, the Mantoloking Bridge will be closed for several days so some work can be done in the area, but there is no word yet on when that will be.
When the bus turned onto 6th Avenue, there was a noticeable burning smell, not surprising since there had been house fires nearby, officials said.
A couple in a two story brown house, in between Route 35 north and south, stayed in their home during the storm, often calling and texting with police. The ocean flooded their first floor, fires burned in Camp Osborn and all around them, but they were fine when police found them the Wednesday after the storm, which blew through the area Monday, Oct. 29, into the following day.
Reporters viewed destruction to homes, cars and boats along various sections of Route 35, including a section between Bay Tree Court and West Kupper. At D&R Boat World, 501 Route 35 North, boats were tossed about and smashed into each other. Across Route 35, a car lay in a wet sink hole in front of a damaged house.
At 9th Avenue, there was a truck stuck in a sink hole in front of Charles Bait and Tackle Shop.
A number of local landmarks, such as Charlie's Farm Market and Used to Be's bar on Route 35, are still standing.
The next phase of Brick's recovery plan for the barrier island begins Friday when residents will be able to return to their homes with their contractors, if they have first registered with the township, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Phase 3 will allow residents and their contractors to be on the island from dawn to dusk, Bergquist said.
Residents returning to their homes have been asked to drain water systems in their homes, to empty boilers and hot water heaters.
"But we'll have them back in their homes before it's freezing temperatures that would make the water freeze," Acropolis said.
The tour bus made a stop at the command post, next to Pioneer Hose Company #1, on the media strip between Route 35 north, which will remain closed for a while, and Route 35 south, which will run in both directions for the near future,
Lt. Col. Brian Griefer of the Air National Guard said at the command post, flanked by a line of Humvees, that he and many other Guards members had been to Katrina.
When asked to compare the level of destruction, he said, "This is similar, if not worse.
Griefer said the National Guard began planning for the storm well before it hit and began deploying to Brick's barrier island the day after.
"I've been here eight days," said Griefer, a Bergen County resident.
When asked how much longer the barrier island will be essentially an Army encampment, with National Guard members pitching tents and building open fires to try to stay warm along Route 35, Bergquist said, "For the immediate foreseeable future. We need to provide security and safety. We haven't had looters. We had a report of one theft. People have tried to come onto the island by foot, by car, by boat and by kayak and we've turned them away."