Three Years After Sandy Survivors Struggling to Get Back Home

By Brenda Flanagan

“I lost my home and most of my possessions in Sandy three years ago. Today, that home is still a dirt lot,” said Doug Quinn.

Sandy survivors took splintered wood scraps and storm debris and with photos of personal devastation, built their own makeshift memorial. It’s a tragic scrapbook documenting three years of ongoing struggle across the street from the State House in Trenton.

Quinn continued, “I’m a veteran. I spent the night last night here in World War II Memorial Park because it’s important that the people across the street understand that thousands of us are still not home yet!”

“Hopefully I’ll be home by Christmas but there’s people on a waiting list, still. That’s three years after the fact. To me, it seems unamerican, you know? We have to take care of our own people,” said Joe Karcz.

Many tell horror stories of government red tape and crooked contractors. A Monmouth University poll of people
whose homes Sandy hit hard, shows about a third think the state’s recovery is focused on helping them but nearly two-thirds feel they’ve been forgotten.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) added, “that wasn’t a surprise. When less than one out of four people are actually put back in their homes. You have to look at things, as if it was You. As if it was me. If it was my house. How would you feel about your government failing you, the way they failed these people? They did a piss poor job, that’s all I can tell you.”

Sandy victims point to the FEMA maps used to estimate flood risk. They claim the state Department of Community Affairs recently decided to hold thousands of homeowners in Coastal Zone A to even higher standards, the strictest, most expensive requirements for elevating and rebuilding homes. It could tack $50,000 onto an elevation project.

Paul Jeffrey, President of the Ortley Beach Voters & Taxpayers Association, commented, “to change the rules, three years afterwards, is absolutely sinful. Anyone who had plans in place now has to go back and have them completely redrafted to the new standards. For those who’ve already rebuilt, I don’t know what the consequences will be. There’s claims it won’t make a difference. I don’t believe it.”

The DCA told NJTV News the stricter standards won’t kick in until next March and won’t affect projects already in the pipeline. Protestors also complain the coast still lacks a solid line of defensive dunes planned by the Army Corps of Engineers but the state says it’s still fighting for permission from some town and resident hold-outs.

Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos said, the dune system, which is the reason we had all this major flooding, is still not built. I mean, what have you done for us? Nothing. I feel sad. I feel like our state government let us down.

Meanwhile homeowners like Julie Suarez raided retirement accounts and borrowed money to rebuild only to end up in
a legal battle for proper reimbursement. She’s been back in her home for two years, but she’s $240,000 in debt. “We’re trying to get back what we didn’t get from our insurance and I hate, I hate to say it with all my heart, but I’m afraid we’re gonna lose it. I am, I’m barely hanging on.”

Sandy victims say they will be camped out here for the rest of the week and that they’ll work for solutions
all through the coming year. They say they’ll be back on the fourth anniversary of Sandy if they have to.