‘It’s really haunting’: Former Union Beach fire chief recalls events of Superstorm Sandy

Union Beach was among the hardest hit towns during Superstorm Sandy, and News 12 New Jersey’s Tony Caputo spoke with the man who was fire chief when the storm hit – and the events of that night are still very emotional for him.

News 12 Staff

Oct 25, 2022, 10:01 AM

Updated 628 days ago

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Union Beach was among the hardest hit towns during Superstorm Sandy, and News 12 New Jersey’s Tony Caputo spoke with the man who was fire chief when the storm hit – and the events of that night are still very emotional for him. 
“A lot of our friends, family members, people that I grew up with that don’t live here anymore because they lost everything and there’s just nothing to come back to,” says Robert LaBerta.
Floodwaters filled about 80% of the properties and Union Beach streets, rendering fire trucks useless, not to mention the risk was too great to first responders themselves, even as calls for help poured in. 
“I recognize the addresses that came in, the names of the people, and we just knew that no matter how hard we tried we just didn’t have enough resources to rescue everybody,” says LaBerta. “We got a call of somebody that said they were holding their baby up over their head and their house as the water was coming up. People saying that they heard people in the water screaming for help. It’s really haunting.”
Not one person lost their life in Union Beach in the storm. LaBerta credits the first responders who were on duty helping anyone they could, even if it was just by communicating and keeping them calm, all while many had no idea if their own loved ones were still alive. But why does he think so many residents decided to stay and not evacuate?  
“We had a false alarm a year before, I believe it was Irene, and, you know, we weren’t everybody that that one was going to be bad and it just passed us by, so a lot of people figured it wasn’t going to be as bad as it said it was going to be,” says LaBerta. “You have lifelong residents here who know they grew up here in their homes, they didn’t want to, they felt they were going to make their stand here.”
They all made it, even though some were literally carried out of their flooded destroyed homes.  
A $50 million flood mitigation project led by the Army Corp of Engineers is also in the beginning phases to prevent future flood damage in Union Beach like that was seen in Sandy. 


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