Where some people once lived on gently sloping beaches, they now live on the edges of cliffs.
The storm surge from Hurricane Irene left 15- to 18-foot drop-offs on some New Jersey beaches, particularly on Long Beach Island. But Gov. Chris Christie and state environmental officials said the erosion is not so bad that the beaches can't be used by Labor Day weekend.
"Our beaches are in good shape," Christie said at a press conference Monday.
"If you were planning to go to the Jersey shore for the last week into Labor Day weekend, we're restoring power down there at a very quick rate," he said. "Get in your cars and go down to the Jersey shore."
The state Department of Environmental Protection also said the state's 127-mile coastline actually came through the hurricane in good shape and past coastal storms had inflicted far worse damage.
"Labor Day weekend should be no problem," said Robert Giovannetti, a construction specialist with the DEP who has been measuring eroded beaches for 30 years. "It might be a little tight, but you can do it."
Giovannetti, who estimates he has taken 2 million photographs of sand in his career, said Long Beach Island experienced an average sand loss of 4 to 5 feet in height and 150 feet in width.
The steep cliffs carved out by the storm were causing concern up and down the coast, and shore towns wasted little time attacking the problem Monday. Many had dispatched work crews just after dawn to start pushing huge mounds of sand back where they belong.
As a result, the whine of heavy machinery competed with seagull screeches along the shore.
Lloyd Vosseller was operating a bulldozer in Harvey Cedars, busily trying to restore an access ramp to the beach for lifeguard and other vehicles.
Next would be the restoration of pedestrian walkways and public-access points. Some of them were left dangling 8 feet in the air, becoming walkways to nowhere.
Christie and DEP Commissioner Robert Martin flew up and down the coast Sunday to look for damage and were encouraged to find comparatively little, DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese said.
"We really fared very well," he said. "Apparently the beach replenishment work and the dune projects really paid off. We're not seeing any truly severe damage to the beaches."
Officials in Ocean City credited beach replenishment work for protecting their beaches, some of which were obliterated by a November 2009 coastal storm.
Christie visited Avalon, where he met the mayors of that town and Sea Isle City. The governor praised the beach replenishment project, saying it helped save lives and homes.
"This doesn't happen by accident," Christie said. "Part of it is good fortune from the way the storm weakened a little bit before it came on shore, but part of it is because these guys have made investments. And you see the results of it now here. The dunes did their jobs. They protected the beach."
A report compiled Monday evening by the DEP shows beach erosion of 2 to 4 feet worth of height and 50 to 100 feet of width was common at most of the shore. But some places, like Seven Presidents Oceanfront park in Long Branch, fared worse. It lost access steps and 300 feet of beach, with sporadic cuts in the dune.
Beaches that lost up to 150 feet of sand width include Ocean Grove, Bradley Beach, Loveladies, Long Beach Township, Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.
Harvey Cedars, Surf City, Ship Bottom, Beach Haven and the Holgate section of Long Beach Township suffered 200-foot-wide erosion.
Seaside Heights had 140 feet of erosion, Seaside Park had 120 feet, Avon's varied from 50 to 120 feet wide and Belmar had 80 to 100 feet of erosion.
Bay Head suffered cuts to its dune system throughout town, ranging from 3 to 8 feet high and 5 to 15 feet wide. Mantoloking and Lavallette had similar cuts to their dune systems.
Besides the Spring Lake boardwalk, most of which was damaged or destroyed by the storm, physical damage was sustained by an outdoor patio at Joey Harrison's Surf Club in Ortley Beach, dune fences in Surf City, Cliffwood Beach, Sea Bright and Brant Beach, a handicapped ramp in Brigantine and a walkway at Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge. Beach cabanas were washed up in Monmouth Beach.
A bulkhead and walkway collapsed in Atlantic Highlands, a lifeguard shack was damaged in Allenhurst and the Ocean Grove fishing pier was closed for inspection due to suspected damage to its support pilings. Geotubes, large sand-filled fabric tubes placed on beaches to form the support systems of some dunes, were partly exposed by the pounding surf in Beach Haven, but they did not rip, and the entrance ramp to Holgate Natural Area was damaged and inaccessible due to large stones that were exposed as sand washed away.
On the Holgate beach nearby, the rusted remains of an old automobile chassis buried in the sand long ago were exposed by the erosion.