When we heard that Sandy might be the perfect storm, we had to make some decisions. Just before the storm my oldest son and his wife and 1 year old son, moved in with us to save rent money so they could buy a home. We also had my 18 year old daughter and my 22 year old son living with us. So decisions on who was going to stay, if we all left what would we do with our 4 cats and 1 dog. So we sent our daughter and her boyfriend to our 2nd son's home, which is located on the mainland. Our daughter-in-law and grandson went to her brothers on the mainland, and our 3rd son the 22 year old decided to stay with us to help with the animals and the house. My mother and father also live on the Island and they evacuated to my brothers home in Marlton Lakes, so I didn't have to worry about them either. We moved our primary cars ( the ones not paid off) to the mainland and our paid off cars, boat and camper to the highest ground in Beach Haven, Bicentennial Park. We boarded up our large window, tied down what we could and put our furniture up on blocks hoping to keep the water from ruining the furniture if it came into our home. I grew up on Long Beach Island (Beach Haven), NJ and am no stranger to storms. My husband is a retired Chief of Police of the Beach Haven Police Department and also a member of the Beach Haven Vol. Fire Company and a retired Army Reservist. So we had both seen our fair share of storms and emergencies.
It started off pretty quiet and not so different then any other storm and we felt prepared. We had bought our water and supplies like any other storm. Candles out, flashlights at hand and gas for our generator. Our home is a simple Cape Cod located between the ocean and the bay. The house survived the '62 storm with no damage. We did, however, get around 6" of water in our home in '92 when all the planets were aligned during a Nor'easter, which caused 3 days of flooding. So with this storm, as all the storms since '92, we prepared as though we could have a couple inches of water in our home.
The 1st high tide was around 3 pm on October 28th, we knew by 1 pm that we were in trouble. The water was creeping in our house, we realize if this tide was suppose to be nothing compared to the 2nd high tide none of our preparations would save anything. We immediately starting taking what ever we could to our second floor. We did our best, then put the 4 cats upstairs so they wouldn't drown, unplugged the frig, stove and our out door frig. Locked the house up to go to our neighbors home but the water was already too deep for me, so my husband had brought a canoe to me and I got in and my son, with the dog in his arms, and my husband waded through the water pulling me in the canoe across our street.
Our neighbors house had been raised many years earlier so they felt they were prepared for this storm and knew we were staying and offered us shelter if needed. We took them up on their offer. As the storm winds increased their home shook and my husband and neighbor both started to have concerns that the water was going to even get into their raised home's 1st floor. Their garage was already under water. So they started to put all of his tools and business supplies up, he has a business on the 1st floor of his home along with the kitchen. Then all of a sudden we thought the storm was over, this happened even before the surge hit us. It seemed like the eye of the storm was over us, we could even see the stars. There was no wind and the water, bay and ocean, that covered the streets was very high but still. All of a sudden we see a 21' foot boat turn the corner of our street and start floating towards the bay. The boat first hit the side of the house we were in, then it drifted into the house next door, a little further down the road it bumped into a work dumpster with a loud bang. We were wondering how much damage this boat was causing all the objects it was crashing into as it was floating down our street. Then it came to a stop towards the end of the street, it seemed wedged between a tree and telephone pole. We thought it would remain there. (The day after the storm as my husband and I were walking around our neighborhood, we found the boat lying in the middle of the road around the corner. It was a sight to see.)
We started to relax, and fall asleep thinking maybe the worst is over. Then all of a sudden we started hearing screaming. It seems there were people stranded in their condos south of us, it was so quiet that we could hear them. Later we had found out that they were rescued and were taken to the Engleside. So we went to bed, then not much later the wind started to pick up and their raised home started to shake and sway so much I had concerns if it was stable. Our neighbor has a wind indicator I know he said we were having continuous winds of 60 miles an hour and some gusts up to 80. I can't remember if they got any higher. I will say none of us slept until we could tell the worst was over. I kept looking out the windows in hopes of having a glimpse of my home. I couldn't tell if it was still standing, it's and older home and I didn't know if it could withstand the rushing water and winds. We could see the foaming water and large objects floating by our other neighbors home, but it was so black out we could only see about 30 feet in front of us. We could hear transformers popping and wondered if there were going to be any devastating fires, since no one would be able to get to the fire because the water was so high.
At the same time we heard there were possible tornados on the mainland where my daughter an daughter-in-law were. So my worrieless moments of them turned into texting and making sure they were ok. Which thank God they were.
When we woke up I thanked God we were alive and we immediately went to our home, I checked on the cats they were fine. The roof was still there to protect them. So I was relieved, then I started to notice the damage and how high the water was in the house. I was thankful we remained, my husband and I tore out the carpeting and took out the sofas and mattress. We removed anything that held water. We knew it would stink and get moldy. We had a fireplace, he lit a fire to dry out our home. We still had electric up stairs, we have 2 electric meters, which helped until the utility companies turned off the electric and natural gas to prevent explosions due to gas leaks. Our outside frideg was packed with frozen food, the water had flipped it on it's back, so we emptied it and took the food across the street. This food sustained the 5 of us for days, we were very lucky it didn't get destroyed. Even when the Island was shut off from everyone, my husband and neighbor would walk buckets to the bay and fill them at high tide so we could flush the toilet. We would take towel baths with water from a water bottles and wipes. When the first responders were given passes to go to the mainland they would bring us back gas for the generator, water, milk, bread.....the day to day simple stuff. Because of their membership in the fire company, my two older sons were the ones getting us supplies when we needed it. We were afraid to leave the island, because we would not be allowed to return. And we had heard that the police might arrest us for staying and evacuate us. Our neighbors were not leaving and neither were we.
My husband and I went for a walk on the beach the afternoon after the storm. The beach looked like the beach I knew as a child. We did not have the sand dunes there are today. There weren't as many big homes on the ocean front, so the dunes didn't exist. The beach was actually beautiful. It kinda looked like mother nature had taken back the land that was hers. The beach front homes were missing their bottom floors and the small homes were knocked in by the waves exposing the inner contents of the house. I didn't get close to take pictures, I felt like I was trespassing on someone's personal life. So I only took distant pictures out of respect.
As the days went on we starting hearing of the process to get aid, grants and start the insurance process. I took pictures of everything. I didn't know the insurance company may want to see our possessions we had them in the front yard and they were taken away the next day because our area was expecting another flood. So this started my worries, I had taken pictures but it was not up to me about when they would be removed. The townships didn't want any more debris floating around. We contacted FEMA, Red Cross, and started the paperwork process.
We started cleaning and repairing our home, since we did not have another place to live and I wanted to get my daughter and my sons family back home. They were living in the downstairs two bed rooms and were completely displaced from the house. My husband and I and my other two children were using the upstairs bedrooms. Needless to say, to date, they have not returned home and have not been able to save money to buy a home. Then we were told not to start repairs, the insurance company would not pay. There was so much confusion on what you could do and what you could not do. My husband and I did all the work, that was another thing that helped us save our home. We had a head start since we stayed, the dirty bacteria ridden bay water did not stay in our home for weeks we cleaned it out with bleach.
We applied for all the grants, loans and we were approved, again thank God! The cost of the repairs and raising our home has been amazing. You think wow I am getting enough money, but the reality is, the expense is greater than the insurance and grants. I don't think they even realize the extra costs example our township requires several surveys, one to set the pilings, one to say the pilings were put where they were suppose to be and an as built survey. That's just an example of the "extras" and a survey is around $700.00 each. Also the joy of paying rent and a mortgage. Double electric bills, water, sewer and taxes when your home is not livable. Those are just a few examples the list goes on. The process also makes you jump through hoops, providing receipts, paying for repairs then getting reimbursed. I don't know where they thought we were getting the money from to pay the builders up front. My husband made phone calls daily. I ended up living in another state because we couldn't find a rental that would take 4 cats and a dog. So my husband and children remained in NJ and I lived in Florida for 8 months. I will say our nerves are shot not from the storm but because of our insurance company. We paid for insurance for $250,000 house damage. Over 50% of our house was damaged, we had almost 3 feet of water in our home. We qualified for all the programs because of the amount of damage on our home. Yet we only received $60,000.00. If we would have received the $125,000.00 from our insurance company from the very beginning, 2 years later we would be done fixing up our home and enjoying it living a normal life. Instead of dealing with trying to finish the repairs on our home with our own money living from pay check to pay check.
I do consider myself fortunate, I do know people who haven't even begun to repair or build because of insurance or grant delays. My husband having the ability to do carpentry and home repairs has afforded us the opportunity to return home and continue to work on the house. He did have to quit his job, so that he could work longer hours on the house. We do not have the money, at the moment, to finish our yard and enclosing the bottom of the house. We will get that done a little at a time. He is making sure the house is winter ready, he doesn't want any frozen pipes.
So after 2 years we are 80% done. We are tired, we have medical issues we did not have before the storm, actually before all the red tape. My husband, 2 youngest children and I have been living in our home since June with a temporary CO but my son's family is still homeless, their rental is done before Christmas. We hope they can get it extended. A blessing from Sandy.......my granddaughter Emma! She is a Sandy baby. And she is our gift from God.