By Michelle Sahn
SEA BRIGHT — Last year, Karolyn Wray, 49, and her neighbors were walking around Sea Bright “like zombies,’’ she said.
They were freezing as they surveyed the damage, caused by Super Storm Sandy.
On Tuesday night, the community came together to remember the one-year anniversary of the storm, with a bonfire on the beach, a dinner at the local firehouse and a visit from Gov. Chris Christie.
“”This is the good side of Sea Bright,’’ said Wray. “This bonfire and the dinner are a lot better than a year ago.”
The Atlantic Way home where she and her family lived for about 15 years had severe damage, with about 2 to 3 feet of water inside. It did not make sense to try to fix and elevate the house, which was built in 1927, so they decided to tear it down and rebuild, she said.
Their new home will be about 16 feet above sea level and about 9 feet off the ground. They hope to move back by March.
The last year has been difficult, but now she has hope, she said.
“Fighting with FEMA, fighting with insurance, hoping for grants, hoping we could get to a finished product and be back home,’’ she said. “The worst is definitely over. I started to feel better when I saw the first floor go up. There’s still a lot of fighting with insurance that I’m not looking forward to, but hopefully we’ll be home.”
The governor told the crowd that he knew how challenging and difficult the last year has been in Sea Bright, which he described as a small town with a big heart. He praised Mayor Dina Long, who he said has done an incredible job advocating for her citizens. Yet governors and mayors cannot rebuild communities alone, he said.
“It was tens of thousands of volunteers and the great citizens that Dina and I have the absolute honor of representing, that helped to rebuild this state,’’ said Christie. “We’ve got a lot of work left to do.”
C. Read Murphy, the borough’s Office of Emergency Management coordinator and a Republican councilman, said last year there were mountains of sand on the streets and storefronts were blown out.
“It was absolutely beyond comprehension,’’ he said.
About 99 percent of the businesses have reopened, but some 40 percent of the community’s roughly 1,400 residents are still not back in their homes, he said.
“I think a lot of our residents are frustrated with the government and government programs…but overall as a community, we’re really positive,’’ he said.
Frank Masi, 65, and his wife, Cookie, 63, bought an Ocean Avenue home in the borough last year. They did extensive renovations after making the purchase, but then Sandy flooded their basement and first floor.
“We had been in the house for about four or five months when the storm hit,’’ he said.
“All the renovations we did were wiped out.”
They said they filled the basement in, with stone and concrete, then rebuilt the first floor.
They moved back into their home in August, and on Tuesday, they were among dozens of local residents who came to the firehouse to acknowledge the anniversary of the storm.
“It’s a great town, great people,’’ said Cookie Masi.
Next month, Megan Heath Gilhool, 58, of Long Branch, plans to open ArtSea in a former dry cleaning shop in the borough. With the art gallery, which will also have a gift shop and offer art classes, she is investing in local artists and the community.
“I want to support the community right now,’’ she said. “Sea Bright is my heart.”
Fran Raffetto, 50, and her mother, Frances Rooney, 80, both of Little Silver, were handing out hot dogs at the firehouse Tuesday night. Rooney has a hot dog stand at the corner of Surf Street and Ocean Avenue, a stand that has been in her family since 1965 and that she has worked since 1977.
Her equipment, which she stores in a shed in the borough, was damaged, but she was able to get it repaired quickly, and reopen about a month later.
“I said, “that’s because God wants me to keep working,” said Rooney.
She said they were donating the hot dogs Tuesday night “just because we’re Sea Brighters – part of the community.”
Brian George, 65, of Rumson, owns Northshore, a clothing store on Ocean Avenue. It was condemned after the storm and had to be knocked down.
When Hurricane Irene hit, the year before, his only damage was some moisture in the carpet, he said.
“We never thought what happened, was going to happen,’’ he said.
The tidal surge hit the building, and his merchandise floated down the street, into the Shrewsbury River, he said.
He reopened in a temporary location in Rumson for three months, so he wouldn’t miss the Christmas season, then was back in the borough by March 1, in a renovated store, across the street from his old shop.
“We said we were coming back and we think it’s going to be better than ever,’’ said George, who added that his slogan is “Rediscover Sea Bright.”
“A lot of good people united together to get us where we are today,’’ he said. “A lot of people are still out of their houses, but they’ll be back, God willing. There are a lot of good, solid people here.”
Members of New Jersey Hope and Healing, a FEMA-funded program that provides counseling, outreach and information referrals for Sandy survivors statewide, were also in the borough Tuesday. Amanda Porter, one of the leaders of the Monmouth County team, said the group runs a support group in Sea Bright.
For more information about the program call 877-294-HELP.