TOMS RIVER, N.J. - More than 9,000 buildings - about 30 percent of this Ocean County township's property tax base - were heavily damaged by Sandy's floods and winds, the town's administrator told visiting legislators Monday.
About 225 homes "just washed away" in the Oct. 29 storm, which left about 5,000 families homeless in this municipality alone as it spans oceanfront, bay, and mainland neighborhoods.
"We're certainly going to need some help bridging this gap financially," said Administrator Paul Shives, voicing the sentiment of officials from a number of affected municipalities.
Areas in Atlantic and Cape May Counties sustained significantly less damage than did most of the coastal sections of Ocean and Monmouth Counties, where Sandy's storm surge trounced residential areas, downtowns, boardwalks, and beaches.
The storm hit with such ferocity in places such as Seaside Heights, Sea Girt, Mantoloking, and Toms River's Ortley Beach section that entire blocks vanished beneath six feet of sand and muck.
Estimates put New Jersey's storm damages at $29.4 billion.
Money seemed to be foremost on the minds of about 100 people who convened Monday at the Toms River Municipal Building for the first in a series of state Senate Budget Committee hearings on how to fund the rebuilding in the hardest-hit areas.
Testimony also covered the efforts of first responders and the misery and "horror stories, one after the other," wreaked by the storm.
"No picture, no video, will do this justice," said Stephen Acropolis, mayor of Brick Township, which contains the largest area of waterfront property in Ocean County. About 6,000 homes were damaged there, with 109 homes either washed away or burned during the storm, he said.
Officials' concerns ranged from creating a better emergency communication system, to inform residents about what to do and where to go, to acquiring more rescue and response equipment and streamlining environmental permitting for rebuilding.
But mostly, they wondered where money would come from to pay for basic services such as trash pickup, recycling, and sewage operations in the coming weeks.
"It's costing us about $1 million a week just to dispose of debris and trash created by the storm," said Toms River's Shives.
"Ortley Beach has been referred to as ground zero for the storm. . . . It's devastating," he said, noting that the township had approved a $35 million emergency appropriation just to pay for storm cleanup.
The Senate committee did not visit Monday to provide answers, only to ask questions of panelists, who included mayors, administrators and police, said Sen. Paul Sarlo (D., Bergen). No testimony or questions were taken from the public.
"Folks, this is going to take some time and some real dollars," Sarlo said. "We need to focus on the immediate needs of the people . . . getting them back in their homes. But we need to have an eye toward the future and how we can work together in such an enormous undertaking."