Stoicism, noisy generator mark vote in storm-hit New Jersey town

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 06, 2012 3:05 PM
Stoicism, noisy generator mark vote in storm-hit New Jersey town

By Philip Barbara

BAY HEAD, New Jersey (Reuters) - It was far from an ordinary Election Day in the exclusive seaside community of Bay Head, but residents were determined that the destruction and chaos left by the massive storm Sandy would not deter them from voting.

Bay Head has no power. Parts of it resemble a desert battle zone after the storm pushed tons of sand onto its streets. Most of the 900 wealthy residents - including financiers and hedge fund managers who make a 70-mile commute to Wall Street - had to flee inland to find shelter after the storm.

On Tuesday they were making trips of as much as two hours to get to Bay Head to vote, driving home in luxury European-made cars, past National Guard roadblocks set up to stop all but residents and official workers from entering. The National Guardsmen are there to ease the pervasive fear of looting at the smashed multimillion-dollar homes.

The whine of a generator drowned out the sound of Atlantic waves and the cry of sea gulls at the firehouse polling station in Bay Head. The people at the firehouse and the gaggle of front loaders and trucks clearing away the head-high sand drifts lining the streets were about the only signs of life in town.

The firehouse is a center of social life in Bay Head, used in better days for clam bakes, council meetings and the start of the annual 5K race. Voting booths were set up there on Tuesday as they always are for elections. The mood inside was stoic.

"We're very patriotic in this town," said longtime resident Joanne Pehlivanian. "We're going to vote no matter what."

She said the turnout of 170 by mid-morning indicated the usual 400 to 500 people would vote despite the extraordinary hardships.

The firehouse also is serving as a home for National Guard troops, lounging on military cots as they await another shift on the roadblocks.

Almost everyone knows everyone else in the close-knit community and it was unusual to see voters proffering identification cards at the polling station.

"Just to get back into town you have to show the National Guard your ID," said poll worker and resident Sharon Applegate. "If you're walking around town and get stopped by police, you have to show your ID. So it's second nature now."

(Editing by Bill Trott)