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Hurricane Sandy left a long trail of destruction on the New Jersey shoreline. In many towns, Sandy wiped out the boardwalks that line the beach and serve as a commercial center, knitting the towns together. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, many along the Jersey shore are wondering how to start over.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Until two weeks ago, the boardwalk was the place to hang out in Belmar, New Jersey. Ann Summer was walking along the water with her husband, this weekend.

ANN SUMMER: I think it was part of the heart of Belmar. Any time of year, if it was a nice day, all of a sudden it would look like summer. There would be people jogging; riding bikes; walking their dogs; sitting on the boardwalk, reading newspapers. There were always people on the boardwalk.

That all ended when Sandy came to town. The storm splintered most of the boardwalk, and scattered the pieces all over the shoreline.

SHAUN MCGRATH: I couldn't get out of my house. The boardwalk was at my front door, so I couldn't open my front door.

PETER FRANCONERI: The boardwalk was loosened, right? And then, in one wave, it was just picked up - in one wave - and just brought right here.

MCGRATH: Yeah.

ZARROLI: That was Shaun McGrath and Peter Franconeri, who were standing along Ocean Avenue this weekend, surveying the damage. Pieces of the boardwalk now sit in the front yard of Franconeri's condo complex. Franconeri asks me if I want to take a piece, as a souvenir.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANCONERI: You want a small piece?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Funny guy.

FRANCONERI: I'm serious.

MCGRATH: It's right there.

FRANCONERI: Yeah. We're going to take a piece, and write "Gone to The Beach" - you know - on it.

ZARROLI: Not far away sits a bench that once sat on the boardwalk, and was swept here by the floodwaters. Belmar's boardwalk was built close to the water and as a result, it took an especially lethal hit. The storm wiped out a pavilion that served as a kind of community center. It also destroyed whole restaurants, and stores, that once lined the boardwalk.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, CROWD CHATTER)

ZARROLI: The destruction of the boardwalk is likely to be felt by Belmar businesses, for a long time. The Mayfair Hotel sits across the street from what once was the boardwalk. The storm tore the siding off the building, and flooded a basement clubroom. Today, there are huge mountains of sand and debris, blocking the access to the beach. Owner Pat Entwistle has stopped accepting most guests.

PAT ENTWISTLE: Devastated. (LAUGHTER) Right now, I'm sure nobody would want to come here to stay - except the workers from out of town.

ZARROLI: The same kind of destruction can be seen up and down the coast. In Seaside Heights, the boardwalk was largely swept out to sea, and an iconic roller coaster was destroyed. Ironically, the most famous boardwalk of all - in Atlantic City - was largely spared. Over the weekend, the city held a kind of mass stroll along the boardwalk, to publicize the fact that it was still standing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hey, everybody, thank you so much for coming out. We're doing AC; we're doing the boardwalk. And nothing has changed here.

ZARROLI: Atlantic City officials say the boardwalk was spared, in part, because of a dune-reclamation project that blocked the water from coming too far inland. Still, Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, says many people think the boardwalk took a big hit; and tourism is down. Cartmell says many of the city's tourists come from New York and New Jersey, and they have other things on their minds right now.

LIZA CARTMELL: I mean, people just aren't ready. I mean, they were sweating their electricity; they couldn't leave their house. They were - in the north, they were in gas lines. So it was a huge impact to us.

ZARROLI: New Jersey officials say they will rebuild the boardwalks, in places like Belmar. But with so much destruction, it could take years. Gov. Chris Christie said last week that the rebuilding needs to be done in a smarter way, to protect the beaches the next time a bad storm occurs.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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