By Dave Warner
OCEAN CITY, N.J., Sept 3 - Beaches and the boardwalk were packed with Labor Day weekend visitors here on Saturday in the wake of a hurricane that many said left barely a trace of damage.
Resident Kathy Hoffman, selling beach tags along the busy boardwalk, said that like everyone else she and her two children evacuated just before Hurricane Irene hit last weekend.
"Nothing had changed," she said of her return to the beach resort on Monday after Irene had passed. "It was as though there had been no storm here whatsoever."
She said she thought beach crowds Saturday were about on a par with other Labor Day weekends in spite of Irene.
Chuck Cusack, director of the city's beach tag program, said, however, that the storm hurt the city because there was a mandatory evacuation that cost the resort four days of visitor traffic.
Moreover, he said, many summer-long residents packed up for the season when the evacuation order was issued last Friday.
"A lot of people did not come back," he said.
Still, the Ocean City beach near the Music Pier was jammed Saturday with visitors, enjoying sunny skies and a 79 degree Fahrenheit temperature. The water temperature was listed as 76 degrees.
"It does not even look like there was a hurricane," said Megan Irwin, of Collingswood, New Jersey, as she lounged under a beach umbrella about 10 feet from the incoming tide.
Lisa Suter, a visitor from Butler, New Jersey, said she and her family were "actually shocked" at how well the city pulled through the storm.
"We thought the ocean would be rougher, dirtier," she said. "We thought the beaches would have a lot of damage. But nothing. The town did not miss a beat."
Tony Pollini, the general manager of popular boardwalk pizza shop Mack and Manco, said the forced evacuation of the town meant a loss of business for him. "You're closed for the three biggest days in August," he said.
At another boardwalk shop, Cloud Nine, a gift shop, manager Pete Kardas joked that Irene actually did him a favor -- the storm blew down a 20x4 foot plywood sign that was atop his store.
"It took that sign we meant to take down anyway," he laughed.
Beaches at Sea Isle City, several miles south of Ocean City, were also packed on Saturday, a fact one observer thought could be partially attributed to his belief Irene washed away some of the beach.
"The beach was a lot wider," said Chris Tole, a regular visitor to Sea Isle from his home in Cinamission, New Jersey. He said he was able to notice the difference because he had vacationed in the resort three weeks before the storm hit.
"It's shorter," he said, "They definitely lost beach."
Renny Steele, a high school guidance counselor who doubles as head of the Sea Isle Beach Patrol in the summer, agreed.
"We lost some sand," he said, adding, however, that he checked all the dunes in Sea Island, and all but a section of one stood up well under Irene.
"A lot of phone lines were down," he said, "But we had power the whole time."
He said the beach crowds Saturday were about as expected for a Labor Day weekend, though because of changing school schedules, Labor Day isn't what it used to be at the shore.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)