The popular beach community and surfing destination was devastated by Sandy, but a year later, it's made a lot of progress.
Kim Balestrino took a break from cleaning her boyfriend’s flooded apartment and stepped out onto the front steps to chat with her friend Amy Gentile. Staring across the street at piles of sand and lumber where a boardwalk once stood, Kim said she couldn’t even begin to calculate the devastation. “It was just horrific,” she said. Having spent several days without heat or power, she had resorted to eating cold soup out of cans, but she said her friend Amy and some of her neighbors had all banded together to help each other out.
Amy reminisced about the years of memories spent lounging on the beach, hanging out at D’Jais -- a local nightclub that was badly damaged -- and having barbecues on the deck of Kim and Scott’s apartment. All that was now gone, and it seemed hopeless at the time that it would ever return. But Belmar rushed to rebuild its boardwalk, storefronts along the waterfront were quickly repaired, and by the time Memorial Day came around, it almost looked like nothing had ever happened.
That’s not to say everything is back to normal in Belmar, and that there aren’t people still struggling, but in Kim's and Amy’s cases, at least, things seemed to have turned out all right. Before the storm, Kim -- who has a background in the healthcare field -- had been searching for work. By chance, a week after Sandy hit, she was hired by a local hospital and then rose quickly through the ranks over the past year to become head of the maternity ward. She’s working crazy hours now, but babies were always her passion, so she loves her job.
Amy, meanwhile, is balancing being a stay-at-home mom with starting her own business making handmade, clay jewelry. “When you have a weird, crazy experience, you decide to take chances,” she said.
For Amy, Sandy was a life-changing event in many ways. Before the storm, she said she generally took things for granted, but now she’s much more grateful. “How many people have the opportunity to wake up in the morning and see the ocean, sit outside with a cup of coffee and watch life go by?” she asked. Going through the experience of realizing she could have lost everything, she came to the conclusion that material possessions weren’t the most important things, and she began downsizing and simplifying her life.
And she’s not the only one. All around Belmar, Amy senses the mood of the town seems to have changed. “I get this vibe now of clarity, purity, and simplicity,” she said. A lot of the storefronts before Sandy were empty,” she continued, but “since Sandy there’s an organic juice bar, a holistic healthcenter, a bubble tea café, and new yoga places. There’s such a calm serenity to this place now,” she said, speculating that it’s the result of people realizing they could have died in the storm.
As for the two women’s personal journeys over the past year, Amy says “We were just two lucky people. You have to let go sometimes and appreciate what you have, cause it could be gone tomorrow.”