Platteville resident Michael Mayo left for Brick, N.J., where he owns a house, Oct. 15.
One week later, Tropical Depression 18 formed over the southwestern Caribbean Sea, south-southwest of Kingston, Jamaica.
Six hours after it was detected, the tropical depression became a tropical storm, named Sandy by the National Hurricane Center. Two days later, Tropical Storm Sandy became Hurricane Sandy.
Five days later, on Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy roared ashore near Atlantic City, N.J., about 60 miles north-northeast of Mayo’s house.
“I was here for everything,” said Mayo from New Jersey Monday morning. “I came out here for personal reasons, and got stuck.”
The storm was the result of the hurricane combining with a low-pressure system to form a storm with the worst elements of a hurricane and a nor’easter.
“It was like a 100-mph wind raking across the land,” he said. “Windows shaking; it sounded like debris was rolling over the roof constantly. Terrifying — that’s the best word I can use.”
Before moving to Platteville two years ago, Mayo worked in emergency management in New Jersey. That included not only Sept. 11, 2001, but before that, hurricanes of lesser force than Sandy.
“I can only liken what happened here — the aftermath after what we’re looking at now — with the aftermath of when the Mississippi River flooded its banks in 1993,” he said. “That’s what you’re looking at now.”
Brick, N.J., sits on the Metidiconk River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Brick got less damage than two nearby communities, Point Pleasant, two miles northeast, Belmar, five miles north-northeast, and Seaside Heights, five miles south-southeast, which Mayo said are “gone.”
Mayo is now living in a motor home at his house. The house has had no electric power since the storm, but at least the house is still there.
“I’m close enough to the water; the marina is in my back yard,” he said. “The good part is the river I’m on filled up the area, but the dock area, where everybody moors their boats, they got 10 feet of water.
“A lot of people learned from last year’s Hurricane Irene. Most of the people on this block have generators.”
The hurricane was devastating to New Jersey’s road system. One bridge opened 3½ years ago after the road that connected to the bridge was closed for 2½ years. One side of the bridge collapsed during the storm.
Long Beach Island, south of Brick, is an 18-mile-long thin peninsula separating the Atlantic Ocean from Barnegat Bay. Mayo’s New Jersey church’s former pastor and husband lived there — both are Episcopal priests — and, said Mayo, “He was the pastor of the church, and now the church is gone.
“The New Jersey shore will never be what it was.”
Emergency services personnel are overwhelmed by the storm of unprecedented strength. The Halloween Nor’easter in 1991, chronicled in the movie “The Perfect Storm,” did $90 million in damage. Tropical Storm Irene killed 10 people in 2011. Hurricane Floyd dropped up to 13 inches of rain in 1999. Winds from Hurricane Donna reached 105 mph in 1960.
“They have to rewrite their emergency services plans for hurricanes,” said Mayo. “They do have ice and water stations, but they’re not really publicized. The fire department is unbelievable,” he said, responding two minutes after being called for a gas leak report.
“No one in the state of New Jersey has ever encountered anything like this before. A storm this size and magnitude has never happened before. Nobody can think the way they’d normally think.”
To add insult to injury, New Jersey experienced an earthquake Monday morning, centered 50 miles northwest of Brick.
Making things potentially worse is the prospect of another storm, scheduled to arrive today.
“It’s a little bit warmer, but the problem is we’re getting ready for a nor’easter,” said Mayo. “Not fun.”
Today’s forecast is for up to 1.25 inches of rain, with wind gusts up to 55 mph. On Monday the National Weather Service issued a Coastal Flood Watch and a High Wind Watch for Wednesday.
“If I had my druthers, I’d leave tomorrow,” he said. “But I got a house here. If I lock it up and take a hike, it’s going to be looted.
“Thank everybody for their prayers and good wishes, and keep them coming.”