As Hurricane Sandy splintered portions of the Atlantic City boardwalk, words like "unbelievable" and "unimaginable" tripped off the tongues of newscasters and weather persons, but the destruction was far from unprecedented. New Jersey's shoreline attractions were hit by several ferocious storms over the last century. Though these disasters have repeatedly demolished infrastructure, homes and even hotels, the past that serves as prelude is a history of resilience and recovery.
On September 14, 1944 a hurricane given the number seven -- this was prior to the practice of naming storms -- slammed into the New Jersey shore. At 5:25pm, the lights went out and the Military Police guarding the boardwalk had to peer through the dark as 96-mile-an-hour winds whipped up 30-foot waves that battered the shore.
An eyewitness recalled seeing an unusually high wave pick up the boardwalk and break it apart.
German prisoners of war would eventually help pick up after the storm, which did some $100 million in damage. The city, which rumors had declared no more, was back on its feet a year later, hosting the Miss America pageant and generally getting along with life under the leadership of Nucky Johnson, the inspiration for a certain HBO anti-hero.
The city was hit hard again on Ash Wednesday, 1962, when a storm that gained strength over the Carolinas ripped off part of the Steel Pier and loitered over the city. The storm, which had not been predicted by meteorologists, brought not only heavy waves but also snow and ice. The equipment for measuring weather was destroyed.
Later that year, ground was broken on the Atlantic City Expressway, which gave Philadelphia and New York better access to the city's casinos and hotels and helped grow Atlantic City into the destination it was on Sunday, prior to the storm.
Over the last six months, Atlantic City has seen the opening of a major resort, the Revel, and an announcement about the creation of a local Margaritaville. These projects not only bring jobs, but breed corporate investment in the welfare of the community. The recovery may also be speeded by the potential losses that ongoing casino closings represent, some $5 million a day in combined revenue.
Both the opening of new casinos and the likely enhancement of the boardwalk during cleanup from Sandy are part of Atlantic City's slow metamorphosis from purveyor of Americana-tinged entertainments into world-class destination for discerning travelers.
Sandy has been a horror for the Jersey coast, but it is important to understand its destruction in the context of a stormy history. If past is precedent, rumors of Atlantic City's death are greatly exaggerated.