By Brenda Flanagan
Massive jaws take big bites of debris from the pile of rubble in Union Beach. While families watch, it dumps their homes into a waiting trash hauler bite by bite.
“We now know how people in Katrina felt,” said Ashley Severino who grew up in Union Beach and played in the yard that’s now buried in wreckage. “You’re just losing what you ever had in a matter of seconds.”
Severino’s granny lived across the street for 21 years. A demolition team tore her home down last week, leaving a muddy scar.
“Twenty-one years of memories just squashed in a half-hour,” Linda Severino said.
“Every day there’s another house going down,” said Joe Mastorio. He’s lost count of how many. He walks his dog through the neighborhoods.
“It’s devastating to the town. Hopefully by the summer they can get some more people back in,” Mastorio said.
Superstorm Sandy leveled beach blocks and ruined many residences beyond repair in Union Beach. So far, borough officials say 153 houses have been torn down, with eight more scheduled for demolition this week.
But many residents here want to rebuild. You can find foundations rising already, block by block.
“This is a new start for us,” Clarencetina Wingate said. She’s ready to rebuild her two-story home. Red chalk and twine outline the foundation footprint. But it’s going to be raised up much higher than the last one. That means a lot of stairs to climb.
“That’s my biggest concern — about the stairs. Especially when I do shopping,” Wingate said.
Contractors working to rebuild homes must look for markers that show them how high they will have to elevate the new structure.
“Which means that the foundation has to be up nine feet just about,” said contractor John Lecour.
The process of tearing down and building up will take months, even years. Borough officials estimate 300 homes will be demolished here, ultimately. Trash haulers witness the heartbreak, over and over.
“It’s a shame, to see what people actually go through. Especially up here. From what I heard, a lot of people actually walked away from their houses,” said a truck driver Kenneth Laird.
Those houses, ripped up and crushed into garbage trucks, are now headed for landfills in Pennsylvania.