Toms River Police Chief Thanks Community, Volunteers, First Responders for Zero Loss of Life During Sandy
Michael Mastronardy has been the chief of the Toms River Police Department for over 20 years, and during his over two decades of service to the township and its population of 90,000, he has never experienced anything as crippling and devastating as the widespread wreckage resulting from Hurricane Sandy’s wildly surging tides and severe winds. Toms River may have found itself bruised and battered, but it certainly was not broken.
With evacuation and rescue plans firmly in place right after initial mention of the storm, the township braced for the worst, but even then, the storm’s unparalleled sweep of destruction was beyond anticipation. “Thanks to planning and cooperation, as well as organized first responses after the storm arrived, Toms River had zero deaths and no major casualties,” shares Chief Mastronardy. “By 1 p.m. on October 29th, we had 90 percent of our Barrier Island communities evacuated. But even though we heeded warnings about the storm, we were shocked at how rapidly the surf rose in so many areas. Water just came out of nowhere.”
As the eighth most populous municipality in state with an area spanning over 52 square miles of land and water, Toms River was left reeling from the insurmountable damage of Superstorm Sandy, bearing a huge brunt of the hurricane’s punishment. Its Barrier Island community of Ortley Beach was left with 70 percent of its homes damaged beyond repair; Northern Beaches, also on the Barrier Island, found around 40 percent of its homes damaged beyond repair. In addition, coastal communities such as Shelter Cove, Snug Harbor, Silverton, and Bayshore received unprecedented levels of damage and destruction. Losses of power, communication, and utilities were widespread, and gas mains and meters are still being repaired and reconstructed, some of which may not be completed until December.
“When you have flooding that extensive, it impedes typical four-wheel-drive vehicle rescues and slows response time during a crisis when an overwhelming number of people needed help, especially in complete darkness with wires down everywhere. We had people climbing onto rooftops, waiting to be rescued by kayaks and canoes. Our rescue efforts switched from vehicles to boats and front-end loaders. Rescuers had to stay calm, focusing on helping one family at a time until we reached everyone,” says Chief Mastronardy. The chief himself worked tirelessly to assist in any way his community needed: rescuing pets left behind during evacuation; making sure people with chronic illnesses secured their proper medications left behind during evacuation; photographing homes using his own cell phone so evacuated people not allowed re-entry due to hazardous conditions could see their homes; meeting with Governor Chris Christie and President Barak Obama to assess damage.
Chief Mastronardy credits the dedication and planning of Captain Steve Harvey with the township’s successful rescue efforts, and under Captain Bruce Burgess and Captain Henry, an organized re-entry plan with three phases has implemented and clearly delineated (the detailed re-entry plan is posted on the Toms River Township website, www.tomsrivertownship.com). “Severe structural and infrastructure damage, extensive road damage, a loss of all utilities, and no open facilities made our Barrier Island communities unsafe, which is why the re-entry plan was developed. We had to keep track of who came and went, with a police officer on every bus coming into and leaving the island to make sure everyone was safe and secure,” explains Chief Mastronardy. The officers also had to protect against looting, which never became an issue.
The chief also extends praises to the 911 operators who remained calm and patient, tirelessly giving out solid advice and making hysterical people feel secure and comforted in the middle of a disaster. In addition, he expresses thanks to the Massachusetts and Pennsylvania police forces that came out to assist, as well as all of the emergency services, fire departments, first responders, and department of public works. “Thanks to the efforts of our community and everyone helping us, we are making remarkable progress. Each day is 100 percent better than the day before,” praises Chief Mastronardy.
-Article written by Christa Riddle, owner of All About Writing, www.allaboutwritingconsulting.com
File Photo by The Lakewood Scoop. www.lakewoodscoop.com.