Before Hurricane Sandy, many small towns along the Jersey Shore, were only known by those who lived there, summered there or got lost there. 

“If it wasn’t for Sandy,” one resident remarked, “no one still would’ve ever heard of Union Beach...we kinda liked it that way.  Now everything is changed.”

Many of these small shore towns were originally, strictly, or mostly made up of vacation cottages, with little to protect them from the rages of mother nature.  Such is the case with Union Beach, NJ.  Where whole blocks of homes were reduced to their foundations, where residents retreated to their roof tops and cars during the storm because their four walls were filling with water.  Indeed, everything is changed.

Driving Jersey’s first journey into Union Beach was just days after Sandy, riding along with the Ken McKeel and Tina Craig Thorp from the SPCA.  Few were permitted to travel into areas like Union Beach, but the Monmouth County SPCA was on a humanitarian mission to help residents care for their animals and to locate pets that had been separated from their owners.  Driving Jersey captured the horror and the humanity in this effort. 

In mid-November we returned to Union Beach and met up with photojournalist Marc Steiner.  Steiner grew up there, on a street like many in Jersey and America, where neighbors are as close as family, where memories intersect and are shared and now, where tragedy rips things apart...but not people, not friends. 

“As if we couldn’t get any closer,” Steiner said, “the hurricane actually brought us all closer.”

Steiner’s mother and father still live in the house he grew up in, are still active in local committees and activities.  When the water suddenly rushed at Union Beach during Sandy, Steiner’s folks were hurried out their backdoor to safety, by a neighbor.

Steiner, the lensman, armed only with an iPhone for this assignment, gave us a tour of his town and gave us his perspective on the past, present and future of the shore.

The monumental task of rebuilding and restoring our towns, homes and lives continues. Seek a local assistance organization to help or donate to or ask your neighbor if they can use a hand.  Every effort affects everyone else.  Music for Driving Jersey: After Sandy: Part 2 was performed by Jon Francis and Helena Espvall.

Photo by Marc Steiner

This is the story of our towns, our blocks, our neighbors, our friends.  This is us.  We are you.