Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Shock and shore – Hurricane Sandy wreaks havoc at US coastal parks

Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, devastated portions of the Northeastern United States in late October – and several shoreline amusement facilities were hit especially hard.

Recent estimates put the full impact of the damage throughout New Jersey and New York at close to $80 billion (€61bn) and according to one survey the average Jersey beach is now 30 to 40ft (9 to 12m) narrower.

Half-submerged off Seaside Heights, the Star Jet rollercoaster at Casino Pier has become an iconic symbol of the storm’s destruction; a tombstone at sea. Other parks withstood the storm’s fury with relatively less damage. According to New Jersey Amusement Association executive director Kimberley Samarelli, “We have set a course of action to restore and rebuild.”

In this Big Question special, Park World asked 10 operators in New Jersey New York and Connecticut, How was your park affected by Hurricane Sandy? Their responses appear here in order based on their facility’s location, from south to north.


Funtown Pier, Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Image courtesy Tony Catanoso (

Jack Morey, Morey’s Piers, Wildwood, New Jersey: We suffered minimal damage; we are very, very lucky. We will not know for sure the effect on our business until summer, but do hope that all the national and international media will give us an opportunity to rebrand the unique attributes of Wildwood and the Jersey Shore.

Scott Simpson, Playland’s Castaway Cove, Ocean City, New Jersey: We were very fortunate that we were on the south side of the eye of the storm. The centre of the eye passed about six miles north. Ocean City did not receive the brunt of the storm but hundreds of properties in town were flooded and are not liveable. At the park, we lost a couple of signs on top of the Double Shot and the centre canvas on the swing ride, which is a necessity to protect the motors or we would have removed it. I had our crew remove all low lying motors, lights, transformers, computer systems and gear boxes that we knew could experience flooding. The only areas that did have flooding were around our two rollercoasters. We had 15 men working for two weeks to clean the park. We fabricated a plywood wall around the coaster fences which kept the majority of sand out. Our two homes that house seasonal employees both had two feet of water and we are in the process of restoring both properties.

The ocean pushed back the sand under the boardwalk and also under our arcade buildings and miniature golf courses. What used to be six feet from the boardwalk down to the beach is now just one-and-half-feet. We were scheduled for beach replenishment this spring and hopefully the project will be expanded to replace all the dunes that were destroyed.

The effect on our business will not be known until we get in to our season next year. We were fortunate that we had already disassembled and stored all of the equipment for the winter when the storm hit. Knowing many of the people from the New Jersey Amusement Association that were on the wrong side of the storm I consider myself very lucky. Knowing full well the enormity of the work ahead for them and realizing that could have also included our city makes me feel very fortunate and feel terrible for what they are facing going forward.

Jay Gillian, Gillian’s Wonderland Pier, Ocean City, New Jersey: The impact of Hurricane Sandy to our pier was quite minimal in comparison to neighbouring towns. We had some structural damage to our main building which houses 10 children’s rides. Part of the roof blew off along with damage to our main doors along the boardwalk. We had a lot of debris strewn throughout the park and under the pier. Thankfully, we didn’t have any damage to our rides.  We were left with a lot of clean-up, something we couldn’t be more relieved about.


Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Image courtesy Tony Catanoso (

Anthony Catanoso, Steel Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey: As you can see from the photos I took from our helicopter two days after Sandy, the Steel Pier structure was virtually unscathed even with the tremendous pounding it took from the surf. We suffered minor damage to signage and some scenery on the deck.

At Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights, 90% of the pier was destroyed. We had a Sling Shot on that pier, which was a total loss. We also had a brand new ride from Italy in the Port of New York during the storm and the trailers got flooded and filled with salt water destroying that ride. Our losses are well over a million dollars.

Since nearly 70% of our Steel Pier market comes from North Jersey and New York, the hardest hit areas, it potentially will have a severe impact on our business.

Toby Wolf, Casino Pier, Seaside Heights, New Jersey: Right now it is too early to make a full assessment of the impact of Sandy on Casino Pier. We have been on site doing cleanup and securing property. We currently do not have utilities and therefore do not have a complete assessment of the total damage to Casino Pier. We are hoping to have power and gas restored some time next month. Then we’ll have a starting plan on rebuilding.


Casino Pier, Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Image courtesy Tony Catanoso (

William Gehlhaus, Keansburg Amusement Park, Keansburg, New Jersey: We were severely impacted. Other than a day off for Thanksgiving, we have been working seven days a week since the hurricane. We are done with the first phase, which was moving tens of thousands of tons of debris, and securing the rides and building structures where necessary. We have started to reset rides, and have had Chance come and inspect the Pharaoh’s Fury, Carousel and Chaos which had been pronounced structurally fit. We plan to reopen for Palm Sunday (March 24).

Dennis Vourderis, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusements, Coney Island, New York: The Wheel is fine with the exception of the frequency drive. It was submerged in salt water as were the bumper cars and arcade games. The most water damage was to the Spook-a-Rama and our maintenance shop. We are in the process of cleaning up and ordering new equipment. We plan on reopening on our traditional opening day, Palm Sunday (March 24).

Fernando Velasquez, Luna Park, Coney Island, New York: The entire park was under five feet of salty water. We are slowly going through every piece of equipment to be back in operation on March 24.

Peter Tartaglia, Playland, Rye, New York: Playland was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. There is approximately $12 million in damages including the total destruction of the north boardwalk and major damage to the main boardwalk, which is closed indefinitely, plus significant damage to the Ice Casino. The casino will remain closed until a new roof can be constructed and new boilers installed. Many of the ride motors were submerged in salt water and have been damaged. This is still being assessed but should be repaired before the park reopens in May.

Eric Anderson, Quassy Amusement Park, Middlebury, Connecticut: Quassy took all of the necessary precautions it could when Hurricane Sandy was approaching. Fortunately, we had just closed for the season and many things subject to wind damage, such as tents and signs, had been taken down for the winter. However, we have many old trees on the property and winds gusted well over 70 mph during the height of the storm. A few larger limbs came down, one striking our new Wooden Warrior rollercoaster, but fortunately the ride was not damaged.

We were extremely fortunate in that we did not sustain substantial damage, but after the storm moved northeast it dumped a lot of snow in our region and that created more of a dilemma as we were just breaking ground for our waterpark expansion. I had to cancel plans to attend the IAAPA Expo due to these circumstances. Last year we had to deal with Hurricane Irene, which struck New England while parks were still operational. That storm had profound impact on our community with severe flooding and power outages. Then, we had a record October snowstorm which brought down more trees and power lines.

This year we dodged the bullet; others didn’t. The New England Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions quickly stepped to the plate and is offering assistance to the New Jersey parks association. As we all know, this industry is like family; we’re there to help when others are in need.

Interviews conducted by Paul Ruben

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