SPRING LAKE, N.J. (AP) — Hurricane Irene left behind a wrecked boardwalk, toppled trees, flooded streets three blocks inland and even fish on the front lawn after roaring up the Jersey shore early Sunday.
The damage was uneven, varying widely from place to place, even among beaches directly next to one another. Some will undoubtedly suffer tourism losses with Labor Day weekend fast approaching, while others appeared able to resume the summer season within a day or two.
A surge of water from the powerful storm damaged or destroyed most of the Spring Lake boardwalk, ripping up and washing away the synthetic planks in some places, or twisting them into grotesque shapes in others. Special Police Officer Kevin Preston, who struggled to keep spectators from walking on the damaged span, said about 1.5 miles of the popular 2-mile long walkway was damaged.
"This is going to be a problem for Labor Day," said Joe Dooley of Manasquan as he surveyed the damage.
Borough Administrator Bryan Dempsey agreed.
"I doubt that it's fixable by Labor Day," he said. "There are large sections of it that I can't see us putting people on. We don't even know how many of the boards are in the water now, and we can't have people swimming in the ocean if there's boards floating around out there. I really don't know what we're going to do about it yet."
The boardwalk, built with a synthetic material called Trex, has been hailed as a national model of environmentally friendly and durable boardwalks that don't use tropical hardwoods, which are common in many boardwalks around the country.
"It's really sad," said Nancy Donahue of nearby Manasquan. "We run on this boardwalk every day. Now we're in mourning for it."
"That's a real shame," added Mario Rossi of Wall Township. "It's such a beautiful space to run."
Other Jersey boardwalks fared better, including Belmar, Manasquan, Ocean City and Atlantic City. Damage reports were still being compiled for other boardwalks and beaches along the coast Sunday afternoon.
Ocean City, which perennially ranks among New Jersey's most popular beaches, came through the storm in good shape, City Council President Michael Allegretto said.
"The dune system held up, and there didn't seem to be any damage along the boardwalk," he said. "We certainly lost some sand, but it appears to be not too severe. We've definitely lost a lot more in previous storms."
Local officials were waiting until the waves calmed down to try to assess the extent of beach erosion, and the state Department of Environmental Protection was expected to conduct a coast-wide assessment later in the week.
In Point Pleasant Beach, the ocean flowed up and over the boardwalk shortly after 5 a.m., surging down Arnold Avenue toward the borough's downtown before receding, Mayor Vincent Barrella said.
In Belmar, the ocean carried tons of sand over the beach, onto Ocean Avenue and continued about a block inland. Dead bluefish littered some front yards of homes across the street from the beach.
The borough deployed a half-dozen front-end loaders to scoop sand and other debris off the roadway. The pounding surf tossed around a dozen wooden sheds containing lifeguard and beach supplies, with some coming to rest in the roadway and others across the street.
Jared Yoder arrived early at his beachfront restaurant, the Blue Sky Grille, relieved to find it unscathed other than sand piled up outside it.
"I'm just glad it wasn't worse," he said. "Sand can be easily swept away. I'm really relieved it wasn't as bad as they said it was going to be."
Damien Davis rode out the storm with his mother, but it took him awhile to realize Irene had already come and gone.
"When I woke up this morning I was still waiting for the hurricane," he said. "I didn't know it was over already."
"This was really anti-climactic for me," added Lisa Veneziano of Wall, who drove to Belmar to see what had happened overnight. "We took every precaution, took everything down and brought it inside. I thought it was going to be a lot worse. But I'm glad it wasn't."
Manasquan's asphalt beach walk came through the hurricane unscathed. That was a relief to residents who recalled the 1992 nor'easter that smashed it into thousands of tiny shards.
"This was nowhere as bad as that one," said Manasquan resident Chandra Hertzel. "It didn't faze us. We have families now, so we had to leave. Last time, we floated up in a raft to a bar to try to get a drink."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC