Documenting the Superstorm Sandy recovery one flight at a time

    A shore man is literally taking photography to an entirely new level.

    Point Pleasant Beach resident Bob Alberding, who WHYY’s Tracey Samuleson profiled in May, has become a local social media sensation for his post-Superstorm Sandy aerial photography work.

    “I started doing this because I had seen another photographer using his remote control helicopter to take pictures of Lake Como while it was still flooded right after the storm,” he says. “I wanted to see more but he never did any other storm pictures.”

    Inspired, Alberding decided to take his own aerial photos.

    “I was really looking forward to it because it really gives you an idea on the imprint the storm had on the coast from up there,” he says.

    Since then, he has flown his remote control helicopter at beaches along the Barnegat Bay Island — a barrier island that runs from Point Pleasant Beach to Island Beach State Park — capturing both beauty and destruction.

    And his work is pure juxtaposition.

    In many of his images of destruction, there’s an element of beauty, particularly since Alberding shoots above a narrow strip of land between the bay and ocean. In one recent image, the Surf Club, the Sandy ravaged iconic beachfront bar in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River that attracted crowds from the 1960s until last summer, remains in rubble but sits on the beautiful white sand beach adjacent to the calm, blue Atlantic Ocean.

    Some local residents call Ortley Beach “Ground Zero,” referring to the widespread destruction inflicted upon the community. Alberding has been flying his plane there to document the ongoing progress for township officials — gratis — and earlier this month, he captured an image of crews rebuilding the boardwalk next to residential destruction.

    So he gets a unique birds eye view of the progress, which has been slow in some communities. 

    “From what I notice, there are some towns that seems to be moving right along with the recovery, like my hometown of Point Pleasant Beach, but there are places just like Ortley Beach, where people still are waiting for help either from insurance companies or from the town to guide them with what they need to do next with codes and elevation,” he says.

    A steadfast observer of FAA regulations, Alberding says that he doesn’t fly over any populated areas, so when crowds are enjoying shore towns during the summer, his coverage of the ongoing recovery is limited. But he sees photographic opportunity during the fall, where he acknowledges that he will have more opportunity to “document the beach replenishment projects as it continue as well as the dune projects.”

    Circling back to his mission, Alberding knows that he’s having a positive impact by documenting the Sandy recovery.

    “Some of these pictures might seem not so important now, but in the future I feel they will be invaluable.”

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