MANTOLOKING, N.J. - Cranes and bulldozers have joined seagulls and surf as the new sounds of the season in the Jersey Shore town hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy.
Workers have started demolishing the first of 50 storm-damaged homes in Mantoloking, where all 521 houses were damaged or destroyed in the Oct. 29 storm.
On Thursday, crews began tearing down a home that was floating in Barnegat Bay and had come to rest against the side of the Mantoloking Bridge. By Friday morning, a crane was scooping the last boards from the water where the house sat for six months.
Next week, demolition will begin on homes still on land.
The teardowns mark an important milestone in Mantoloking's recovery, said Chris Nelson, borough spokesman.
"We have 50 homes that will be coming down in the next 45 days," he said. "We hope that will provide a sense of closure for a lot of families, as well as a chance for them to move forward with recovery."
The brown wood-shingled house broke loose from its foundation during the storm and wound up in the bay - one of 58 Mantoloking homes to meet that fate. It had sat near where the storm surge cut a new channel from the ocean to the bay, cutting the town in half and necessitating a massive emergency construction plan to repair the damage.
A gray house that sits on land next to where the floating house had been was scheduled to be among the first to be torn down next week, along with at least two others nearby. That demolition work had been slated to start this week, but was delayed first by the lack of an air-quality monitoring team to check for asbestos particles that might be let loose during the demolition, and later in the week by heavy rains that made the ground too soft for heavy equipment to get close enough to the homes to tear them down.
Mantoloking officials have said that once many of the storm-wrecked homes are torn down and the remains carted away, residents might feel less stressed and more hopeful about the borough's future.
The borough will be one of the Shore spots that Britain's Prince Harry will visit next week during his tour of America. He is scheduled to take a brief walking tour of Barnegat Lane, the street that runs along the borough's bay front, where many storm-wrecked homes remain.