NEWARK, N.J. -- When Superstorm Sandy destroyed Michael Nolan’s house, it washed away a past he cannot remember.
Nolan has amnesia from a brain injury he suffered in 2003 after being hit by a car while riding his bike.
Nolan and his family were riding out Sandy in their Normandy Beach, N.J., home when the first floor washed away, taking with it years of photos and other mementos.
"We lost everything that was down there," said Nolan’s daughter, Michaela Murray-Nolan.
Murray-Nolan heard about a Facebook page that’s trying to reunite New Jersey residents with items they lost in the storm. As she browsed the site, she recognized photos of friends from the area, then stumbled upon a photo of her father, his arm draped around his son as the two sit on the beach. She believes it’s about 25 years old.
"I was so excited to even have back even one photo for my dad, who doesn’t remember our childhood. It’s just so important," Murray-Nolan said.
At least four Facebook pages were created to reunite people with photographs, kayaks, wedding invitations and other cherished mementos they thought were lost during Superstorm Sandy. People who find photographs and articles can scan or photograph them and upload the images, along with details of where the items were found and other identifying characteristics.
One page shows snapshots of people’s lives: a newly married couple walking into their wedding reception, an invitation for Brody’s first birthday, a man proudly displaying a fish on a hook, the Stacys’ 2011 Christmas card, friends laughing over beers, a sepia-hued photo of a woman in a nurse’s uniform, a decades-old black-and-white portrait of a man wearing a suit.
The sites have reunited a woman with her wedding dress, an urn containing cremated ashes with a loved one, a mother with a baby album and the congregation of St. Elisabeth’s Chapel-by-the Sea in Ortley Beach, which was destroyed by the storm, with a plaque bearing names.
Jeanne Esti started the Facebook page For Shore after going to her parents’ home in Mantoloking, which sustained broken windows and minor property damage. While assessing it, she saw pieces of people’s lives strewn in the backyard.
"One of the first things I find is a photograph. It’s clearly not ours," Esti said. "I started to cry. That’s what I thought we lost. That’s the first thing I thought of, that this is the contents of people’s homes."
The sites underscore the pivotal role social media has been playing after the storm, disseminating news, connecting people and organizations, soliciting information and organizing volunteer efforts.
The Facebook pages include For Shore, Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasure, Union Beach -- Photos and misplaced items, and Hurricane Sandy -- Found items from Long Beach Island/Manahawkin Area.
A page called Jersey Shore Hurricane News provides news, information and real-time updates. There’s a Twitter account for an Amazon wedding registry set up to help victims. The Twitter hashtags (hash)Sandyvolunteer, (hash)sandyaid and (hash)sandyhelp try to connect people with volunteer opportunities in the tri-state area. A Restore the Shore Facebook page was created to provide information on disaster relief. Its founders held a 24-hour sale of T-shirts and other items that bear the Restore the Shore logo, with proceeds going to storm relief.
Dozens of pages have been created to help and inform people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In New York, the Rebuild Staten Island Facebook page gives news and information on volunteer and relief efforts, as does The Long Island Disaster Relief for Hurricane Sandy and Connecticut Cares Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund page. There is also a page to connect lost pets with their Staten Island owners, called Staten Island Sandy Lost and Missing Pets.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross also have used social media during and after the storm. FEMA has people on the ground writing and answering Tweets and inquiries, a spokesman said.
Kathleen Schmidt started the New Jersey Needs Facebook page as a way to connect people who needed assistance with those who wanted to help. She plans to continue the site as a clearinghouse for information. She wants to help families who can’t provide for Christmas and keep the Jersey Shore in the front of peoples’ minds, especially as fall fades into winter and the months pass.
The technology that has rendered printed photos rare is now helping people get those memories back.
Cora Marinaro Hoch’s daughter had to go out of her way to print out a family picture before heading back to UCLA during the summer. Hoch found the original of that photograph -- it’s of her husband and four children, taken about 13 years ago -- posted on the Hurricane Sandy’s Lost Treasures page. The family’s summer home in Lavallette was destroyed in the storm. Hoch said she was "freaking out" when she saw the photo.
"It gave us hope. I feel that was almost like a sign that everything is going to be OK and hopefully we can rebuild," she said.
Jeannette Van Houten is working in her hometown of Union Beach, posting photographs on Facebook and spreading news by word of mouth in the town, which was decimated by the storm.
Van Houten’s home was destroyed, and she wanted to find pictures of her niece, who was killed in 2008. Van Houten knew there were others who needed that tangible memory of a person back, so she started collecting photos and items wherever she could find them and enlisting others to do the same. She has been working with the Union Beach police department to reconnect people with things found in the town. Van Houten did find photographs of her niece.
"Sandy can take our structures. It can take our possessions," Van Houten said. "But it can’t have our memories."