SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. In parts of New York and New Jersey, life is returning to the way it was before Hurricane Sandy hit. Power has been restored. Schools have reopened. But there are still thousands of people without electricity and areas where homes are unlivable. This is the case of New Jersey's barrier islands. Yesterday, residents of Seaside Heights returned to their homes for the first time since the storm struck.
Scott Gurian of New Jersey Public Radio was with them and filed this report.
SCOTT GURIAN, BYLINE: It's early afternoon when a school bus full of Seaside residents passes through two checkpoints and parks on a quiet corner in the center of the island. As people get off, a police officer with a megaphone announces the ground rules. Residents are limited to just two bags each. They can only take small essential items like family photos, medication and paperwork.
And they have a short amount of time to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're stopping the bus service at 2:00 P.M. You must be back here by 2:00. Be back here by 2:00? All right. Relax, relax, relax. Relax.
JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: It's been a week and a half since the flood waters receded and everyone's tired and under a lot of stress. No one's quite sure how their home held up. The people scatter past boarded up windows and downed power lines looking to find what's left of their lives. Patrick and Michelle Nardone are among the residents who find utter destruction.
PATRICK NARDONE: Come on. You want to see something horrible? Let me show you what used to be a nice, beautiful summer home.
GURIAN: As he walks through his front porch, past a sign that says Seaside Retreat, you could see the waterline on the wall three feet from the ground. His wife opens one of the dresser drawers. They're still filled with water. Then he takes me to the back of the house.
NARDONE: OK. Here's the bathroom 'cause the bathroom sink has separated itself from the wall and gotten behind the door. Our kids bedrooms...
MICHELLE NARDONE: There used to bright blue carpet in...
NARDONE: This was blue.
GURIAN: It's now soaked gray with mud. Long before the barrier islands became famous on MTV's "Jersey Shore," they were a popular summer vacation spot for generations of visitors from New York to Philadelphia. And among the beach towns, Seaside Heights, with its rides and boardwalk was perhaps the most beloved spot. That's what drew Laura Leck and her family to the town when they moved here two years ago.
LAURA LECK: Look at that sky. Look at the weather today. Who would give this up?
GURIAN: She's been told it may be many months before she's able to return for good, so she came to pick up her mother-in-laws guitar, her father-in-law's ashes and her kid's bicycle helmets. She says it's been really hard, but this whole experience hasn't changed her view of living here.
LECK: We've been up in the mountains for the last 10 days and it's just not the same. It's not the same.
GURIAN: She plans on returning as soon as she can, but Sandy has definitely made her more respectful of the ocean. We're not going to give up, she says. We'll just move to the second floor this time. For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.
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