Long Beach Island residents return home

LONG BEACH ISLAND, N.J. - November 10, 2012

"It's devastating," said Diane Felten. "You kind of just take a breath and go. There really are no words to describe it."

Lifelong Beach Haven resident Diane Felten says no storm has ever done this before.

She joined other full and part time residents and business owners allowed back on Long Beach Island. Their cleanup on the 18-mile island is now officially underway.

"I'm finding pictures that belong to my neighbor from across the street," Kathe McLaughlin.

Kathe McLaughlin lives in her Beach Haven home part time, but her family spends Christmas there every year.

The McLaughlins are now hunting for their Christmas decorations. Flood waters moved everything around inside her home and carried the entire neighborhoods belongs through the streets.

Flood waters have ruined homes from one end of the island to businesses like Rich Freund's blinds store all the way at the other end.

"We just pulled up something with mold on it so that's it, we're getting rid of everything," he said.

Freund estimates it will be three months until he can reopen.

Officials say the worst damage is in Beach Haven and Holgate.

Residents are still not allowed on the island because the damage can still prove dangerous, but contractors winterizing homes and doing emergency repairs and allowed back in.

The state called in the National Guard to work on building up the sand that Sandy swept away, leaving many homes more vulnerable to the ocean.

"We are doing the whole beach of Holgate, so it is going to be a few days of rebuilding," said Doriann Buzzetta.

10,000 people call LBI home full time.

Street sweepers are working on removing the caked sand off the streets, while water-soaked furniture lines the curbs all over the island.

"That's just scratching the surface. We still have another half a house full of stuff," said Jeff Paton.

Jeff Paton and his wife Deborah are getting help from a neighbor who has nothing left.

"They're my friends, it's a small community here everyone comes together and we watch each other's backs," said Gregory Weerheim. "We love it here, but when you look at this, it's horrible."

Damage estimates for the 18 mile island are upwards of $750 million.

Of the residents who can remain on the island, few have electricity and no one has gas.

Lifelong residents vow to rebuild.

"We're strong, the island will be back," said Diane Felten. "I have no doubt about that."

The Route 72 causeway opened to full and part time residents and local business owners Saturday.

"I don't know where to begin," said Kathe McLaughlin.

Beach Haven and Holgate got the brunt of the damage on the island.

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