Pittsburghers left wondering if East Coast vacation spots are still there

A man walks between homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy on Long Beach Island, New Jersey November 10, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT)
A man walks between homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy on Long Beach Island, New Jersey November 10, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER SOCIETY ENVIRONMENT)
Photo by REUTERS
| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

As a nor'easter lashed out last week at already battered Eastern coastlines, many people in Western Pennsylvania awaited word about their favorite vacation spots and what Mother Nature has in store next for the mid-Atlantic coast.

It's starting to become a habit.

Two weeks ago, destinations popular with Western Pennsylvanians, from the Jersey Shore to South Carolina's Grand Strand, braced for Hurricane Sandy.

“We were anxiously watching what was going on,” said Anne Wildfire, 56, of Mt. Lebanon, whose family owns a second home in Ocean Pines, Md., about 3 miles inland from Ocean City.

The house she and her husband, Chris, have owned for eight years was not damaged. But close calls in back-to-back years — Hurricane Irene barely bypassed the home in 2011 — have Wildfire worried.

“One of my husband's favorite lines is, ‘Give it 20 more years, and we'll be oceanfront.' It's quite possible,” she said. “I'm curious if we should sell.”

New Jersey beaches sustained the most damage among popular vacation destinations for Pittsburghers. Sandy barreled onto the Garden State's shores just south of Atlantic City on Oct. 29.

Dan McVeagh, 54, of Point Breeze worries that storm damage and months of recovery might interrupt his family's half-century custom of spending summer vacations on New Jersey's beaches.

He remembers summers in Cape May and Stone Harbor as far back as when he was 5, before the family settled on annual visits to Ocean City.

McVeagh and his wife, Janet, continue the ritual with their now-grown children and their spouses.

“We were pretty concerned this might put a big damper on that for years,” he said.

They will find out just how bad things are in January, when they start calling to find a rental house.

“Hopefully, by then, they will know how things have fared,” he said. “Up north seems worse than Ocean City and South Jersey. We're relieved from that news.”

Jack Binder has been a real estate agent in Cape May and Stone Harbor since 1986 and manages 1,400 rental properties. He said the “wonderful Pittsburgh following” should have no problem finding rental properties along Jersey's southern shoreline.

“Cape May is fine. Wildwood is OK. Avalon and Stone Harbor survived,” Binder said. “Parts of Ocean City took a pounding, and the further north you go, that's where the problems start.”

The worst areas are north of Atlantic City in Brigantine and Long Beach Island, he said.

In any event, the people who depend on the tourism industry shouldn't worry, McVeagh said.

“Us folks from Pittsburgh aren't going to stop going. We will go back. It's tradition,” he said.

“If we miss a year, that's a shame. But we hope they get back on their feet.”

Most coastal towns and resorts in Delaware, Maryland and the Carolinas emerged largely unscathed from Sandy.

“We were actually very fortunate,” said Helen Ball, operations and events manager with the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce along the “Quiet Resorts” of Sussex County, Del.

Ball credited a three-year, $35 million beach nourishment project that built up and reinforced dunes along that state's coastline.

“It looks like all that work really paid off,” she said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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