The Jet Star roller coaster, in the ocean since Sandy, will soon be removed (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J.—People have come from hundreds of miles away to see it, sneaking past the yellow caution tape and heavy police guard onto a closed beach still littered with jagged pieces of debris four months after Superstorm Sandy nearly swept away this tiny oceanfront town.
The Jet Star roller coaster, sucked from the Casino Pier amusement park into the Atlantic Ocean by the storm, has become an iconic image of the horror and destruction left in Sandy’s wake. There’s something hauntingly beautiful about the sight of a roller coaster submerged in the sea—the strange way its frame reflects off the water in the early morning light and how the waves expand and retract around it, as if it had been built there in the first place.
As Casino Pier finalizes plans to finally begin removing it from the ocean in coming days, the Jet Star, for many here, is a sad, if beautiful, reminder of everything Sandy has taken away in a city struggling to fight its way back.
“You look out there, and you just want to cry,” said Kathie Kirckof, a Seaside Heights resident who lost everything when her beachside home in nearby Ortley Beach was flooded by the storm. “So many memories, just gone. All people want is just to feel normal again, yet it’s really anything but that here. It just feels eerie.”
Last weekend, Seaside Heights was forced to cancel one of its biggest winter attractions—the annual Polar Bear Plunge, a chilly swimming event that usually attracts thousands of people. But with the Jet Star and other debris in the water and the beach still closed, the Plunge was moved upstate to Long Branch—a disappointment to businesses that had been closed for weeks and hoped to see customers return.
Four months after the storm, efforts to rebuild Seaside Heights have been minimal at best. The old boardwalk, left in splinters by Sandy’s massive storm surge, has largely been carted away as the city last week began work on a new boardwalk it hopes to open by May, the kickoff of the summer tourist season, which is crucial to the city’s economy.
“We are going to have [the boardwalk] finished by May because we absolutely have to,” Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers told Yahoo News. “Yes, it’s an ambitious schedule, but if we don’t do this it will be a huge blow, and we can’t take it. It would be economic suicide.”
There’s also a symbolic reason Akers and other Seaside Heights leaders are working so hard to revive the city. This summer, Seaside Heights turns 100 years old—a benchmark the city is determined to celebrate.
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