Let me begin this by reiterating what I’ve stated from the beginning regarding my photographs of post-Sandy: my goal has been and remains to show the world the destructive power of this storm and to document the struggles and perseverance of the residents of New York and New Jersey.
A few weeks ago Seaside Heights was opened to non-residents for the first time since the storm. Please bear in mind we are talking almost 5 months after the storm. In between a couple of gigs this past Sunday while in the area I decided to make a trip out there to document the relief efforts. For the first time permanent, new power lines were being put up in the small streets leading to the beach. Dredging the hundreds of millions of metric tons of sand from the harbor is well underway, although they’ve appeared to have hardly made a dent. Homes are still in various states of disrepair, many bulldozed. And yes, the iconic roller coaster partially submerged in the ocean remains so.
However, most disturbing of all (to me at least) were the hundreds of people on foot and in cars, clogging the streets, draining the resources of law enforcement to gawk at the roller coaster, trying to access restricted areas to get a “cool shot” with their iPhones, yet most just got their pictures and didn’t stay. The businesses open in Seaside Heights could really use the foot traffic, however most didn’t stop in the local pub for a bite, or at the local vendor selling “Restore Our Shore” tshirts. No, it was tourism of the worst kind.
I normally don’t reserve ranting and raving for this blog, but my absolute disgust of some of the things I saw and heard from these tourists prompted me to write this.
Yea, I did take photos of the efforts to clean up and rebuild and if you’d like to see them you can do so here. I didn’t stay long enough to take many photos, mostly because there were police cars on every street to keep gawkers from killing themselves on unstable decks and sand or God forbid loot and I didn’t want to give the police one more person to worry about.
The first moment I realized things weren’t right was this moment, when two people, chuckling, decided to get a photo op on the steps of an abandoned house. I asked them if it was their home, they said no, they just wanted a photo. They thought it was funny that this building, ravaged with wind and water damage had a “for rent” sign on it. She took one with him grinning on the stoop. I am not a self righteous person in any sense, but I have enough couth to have respect for where I am, the horrible losses suffered by those who lost everything… what is there to grin about?
I spoke with a couple police officers. After this incident where a man had to be rescued climbing the partially submerged roller coaster (which he is now being prosecuted for) the police have been focusing all their efforts to keep “tourists” away from unsafe areas, many trying to get into partially collapsed buildings, some taking “souvenirs” as residents, contractors and public utility crews do their best to rebuild. Instead of the police focusing on that, they instead use almost their entire force to keep tourists in check. This was on a stop sign on every street leading to the beaches.
Case in point, this was one of the few areas you could see the roller coaster. It was roped off because the decks are unstable, and the only other way to see is to climb a man made dune which intentionally runs the length of the beach to keep people off it and away from the dredging/construction crews. This didn’t stop people from doing it anyway. 4 police officers were dispatched to clear the area. I was able to eventually get some photos of the beaches with a police escort and permission.
So listen, my point is not to say that one random person with a camera and a blog has any more claim to see these areas than you, but rather to not be a nuisance and most of all HAVE RESPECT for the victims, the sanitation/public utility/construction crews, police and fire departments and stay out of the way.