SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. – The waterfront rides on Casino Pier are gone, swallowed by the sea. A roller coaster floats lazily in the waves. Sand, leaves and debris choke roads lined with houses that rest on their sides.
The barrier island home to Seaside Heights and other communities where legions of vacationers from New Jersey and beyond made summer memories was a scene of devastation Wednesday, two days after superstorm Sandy's surge enveloped it.
Seaside Heights, where families have walked the boardwalk, eaten fried dough and ridden amusement park rides for generations, was in ruins. The boardwalk made famous by MTV's hit reality show "Jersey Shore" was destroyed, parts of it sticking straight up. Sand pushed up from the beach filled the road parallel to it.
The rides at Casino Pier, a waterfront amusement park, vanished under the Atlantic Ocean's power. A roller coaster from the Funtown Pier sat in the ocean. Roofs were ripped off houses, and utility poles were snapped in two, with their power lines tangled like shoelaces.
The house where the "Jersey Shore" cast lived appeared to avoid any damage. But elsewhere on the island — technically a long, narrow peninsula — boats had been tossed like toys, resting atop houses and cars. One lay next to a motel.
About 300 people have been taken off the island since the storm passed, public safety officials said. About 70 remain and will be ordered to leave and not allowed to return to the island until at least the weekend.
"We have to get everyone off the island because there is total devastation," Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said at a news conference.
In Ortley Beach, a section of the community of Toms River, sinkholes swallowed roads, roofs caved in and homes lay on their sides, separated from passable roads by pools of water.
One sinkhole had swallowed a red truck whose bed stuck up at a 45-degree angle, two tires resting on the road. A house was washed into the middle of Route 35, the main road through the island.
Messner and his daughter rode out the storm at their home in Ortley Beach. They and their dog walked over a bridge Wednesday, carrying a few bags. A friend greeted them on the other side.
They had planned to evacuate, but it took longer than they expected to board up their house, and they thought the bridge was closed.
"It was like being at ground zero — the wind, the rain," Messner said. "At one point a patrolman told us the dunes breached, and within minutes we had 10 feet of water in front of our house," he said.
In Brick Township, on the northern edge of the island, fire or water destroyed more than 50 homes, officials said. As many as 27 natural gas fires burned there Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Neils R. Bergquist said.
There hasn't been looting in Seaside Heights, but a group of people who stayed on the island during the storm broke into a deli because they had no other food, Boyd said.
"Sandy destroyed Seaside — our second home," said "Jersey Shore" cast member Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi in a statement to MTV News. "It's devastating to see our boardwalk and favorite spots ruined. My prayers go out to everyone affected by the storm."
Messner said a telephone pole and tree nearly landed on his house. He and his daughter rode out the storm on the second floor and, somehow, their house sustained little water damage.
He was shocked by what he saw walking to the bridge and over.
"You can't even imagine," he said.