Winter Storm Jonas caused an estimated $67 million in damage to homes, businesses and public infrastructure in Cape May County, according to a preliminary assessment.
The county’s Office of Emergency Management has been tallying storm damage all week, from scoured beaches to ruined docks to homes and businesses inundated with record flooding.
Sea Isle City fared worst, sustaining an estimated $24 million in losses to private and public property.
North Wildwood was next at $13 million. Stone Harbor sustained more than $12 million in damage.
“At times, this storm was worse than Sandy for us because of the weather,” Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio said. “I had a fire in the middle of town that firemen did an unbelievable job preventing from going to neighboring buildings.”
While the damage estimates are subject to change, Emergency Management Director and Avalon Mayor Martin Pagliughi said they're expected to go higher.
His borough saw nearly $3 million in damage.
The figures are expected to make the county eligible for federal disaster assistance. He submitted the preliminary assessment to the state Friday.
“We knew the number was going to be huge. There should be no excuse not to ask for a federal declaration," he said.
Atlantic County identified an estimated $2.5 million in damage to public property. But this does not include severely damaged beaches in Atlantic City that benefit from routine beach renourishment through a federal program.
“This includes beach damage, debris removal, damage to bulkheads and beach crossovers and structural damage to some buildings from snow,” Atlantic County Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Ed Conover said.
Likewise, the damage estimates should make Atlantic County eligible for a federal disaster declaration, he said.
The storm affected 15 of Cape May County's 16 towns to some extent. Even Woodbine in the Pine Barrens sustained thousands of dollars in damage. Only the tiny borough of Cape May Point reported no damage from the storm.
And at least two towns, Dennis Township and West Cape May, are still tallying damage estimates.
Pagliughi said these estimates are expected to trigger a closer inspection and survey by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While the county could not immediately provide a breakdown by damage type, Pagliughi said much of the financial harm was to the county's depleted beaches.
The state Department of Environmental Protection found 19 beach towns sustained major beach or dune erosion from the storm.
The state surveyed 66 coastal towns and found 26 had minor beach damage, 21 had moderate and 19 had severe damage.
“Overall, we saw some major erosion in Cape May County, where they're already engineered beaches, and in northern Ocean County, where there aren’t engineered beaches,” DEP spokesman Bob Considine said.
“The bottom line is those engineered beaches did their jobs by protecting homes and infrastructure. That’s why we have them and have been working so hard since Superstorm Sandy to get them done," he said.
According to the report, Long Beach Island, Atlantic City, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor and North Wildwood saw major beach erosion.
Considine said in northern Ocean County, beaches that saw postponed federal renourishment projects are more vulnerable to future storms than those in Cape May County that benefited from recent beach projects.
"The other important thing to remember is the sand does slowly move back on to the beaches. Basically, it’s simply redistributed onto sand bars during events like these and ultimately works its way back to the beach,” Considine said.
State officials are in contact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to address where they may be able to help with replenishment efforts.
Atlantic City beach elevations fell between 2 to 8 feet. Ocean City beaches lost between 1 and 7 feet of beach elevation, according to the report.
Ocean City lost between 300,000 and 475,000 cubic yards of sand during the storm, Emergency Management Coordinator Frank Donato said. But help could be on the way for the city's south end, he said.
“This section of beach is due to have a re-pump of 323,000 cubic yards which was damage sustained by the October nor’easter,” he said. “And it is possible now that additional sand could get added due to Jonas.”
The state and Army Corps are investigating this possibility, he said.