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Lack of Insurance Could Leave Thousands Homeless in Hoboken

11-14-12

Hurricane Sandy hit Hoboken hard, causing major flooding in the city. Thousands of residents could be homeless as a result. Mayor Dawn Zimmer told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that she is involved with fundraising efforts to help city residents and business owners get back on their feet. She added that the recovery process will likely be lengthy.

Zimmer said 50 percent of Hoboken was completely flooded and many living in basement apartments had their homes destroyed. Flood insurance coverage is limited for basements, she explained because most homes use basements for storage instead of living space. She said she has spoken to FEMA about the issue but in the meantime, she has been involved in the creation of Rebuild Hoboken Relief Fund, which has a website to raise money to help residents and business owners.

The money raised will be distributed to needy individuals who aren’t able to get insurance money or enough through FEMA, Zimmer explained. She said officials are examining how similar fundraising efforts were done in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

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In addition to being tragic for some residents to lose their homes, if people move out of Hoboken in droves, it could affect the city’s economy. “We want to make sure that people are able to stay in Hoboken and we want to make sure that the local businesses are able to get back on their feet,” Zimmer said. “They’re vital to our community. It’s part of the quality of life for Hoboken residents to be able to have those different stores and restaurants to be able to go out to. So we’re working as hard as we can.”

Zimmer said the biggest surprise from Hurricane Sandy was the storm surge that caused the major flooding in Hoboken. “I knew it was a possibility but there was a moment before the storm when we thought we might be OK because usually the flooding that happens in Hoboken happens when we have heavy rain and high tide,” she explained. “And there wasn’t really that much rain and then it was quite sudden. It was mini tsunami.”

While Zimmer was hopeful that Hoboken would be spared before the storm, she said officials took steps to help residents prepare. “On Saturday before the storm we had volunteers going around, knocking on doors, giving flyers — both in English and in Spanish — urging them to get prepared,” she said. “We provided a bus down to ShopRite to help them get prepared.” The city also provided areas for residents to move their cars and transported them from nearby Jersey City and Newport, which had parking available.

In the aftermath of the storm, Zimmer said the response from the state and federal governments was adequate. “We’re so thankful that ultimately the National Guard was able to come in and assist residents and continue to provide supplies to residents and evacuate those that wanted to be evacuated,” she said. “They absolutely did what we needed.”

Zimmer said in the days before the election, President Barack Obama listened to her concerns through a conference call. After she explained that the city was sheltering residents in homes, more generators were brought to the city. The National Guard continues to help and the DEP has been working in Hoboken on an oil spill issue, Zimmer said. “We really, truly appreciate the support,” she said.

The road to a full recovery could be long for Hoboken, according to Zimmer. “I’ve heard some estimates like what happened in New Orleans and it took a year to get back on your feet and that rebuilding process is going to take time. I certainly hope it doesn’t take that long but that is a possibility,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge for people to do that rebuilding but again that’s why we’re trying to set up that support structure.”

Zimmer said the community has come together in this time of hardship. “We had over 5,000 volunteers helping us. There’s a tremendous community support,” she said. “Everyone really wants to help each other and again make sure residents can stay and businesses get back on their feet.”