Storm Chronicles: A Neighborhood Transformed

Things have changed since late October, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the area

My longtime neighbor sits at a table in her dimly-lit kitchen. She is weary and numb. Superstorm Sandy is to blame.

At 82, she has decided to sell her much-loved home across the street from the Toms River at a bargain price. She is basically selling the lot in this neighborhood known as Toms River Shores in Bayville.

She loves it here. Up until a few years ago, she would routinely trundle her kayak down the street, lug it over the sands of the civic association beach, shove off and paddle blissfully on the river.

A gardener extraordinaire, she loved to cultivate trees from cuttings and seeds and putter around in her garden.

But those days are suddenly, all too abruptly gone forever.

The flood waters swamped her crawlspace, garage and seeped into her hardwood floors. Her son - who lives in Missouri - spend a week ripping out soaked insulation, carpets, cutting sheetrock and chainsawing fallen trees.

She kept the hardwood floors. The house has not been treated for mold. You can tell that as soon as you walk into the living room. Connie still lives in the house. She's a little stubborn, fiercely independent and has turned down offers to stay someplace else.

My neighbor had flood insurance. Chances are, her ranch home is more than 50.1 percent damaged, enough to qualify for a FEMA grant to raise the house.

But she doesn't have the heart or stamina to slog through the physically and emotionally draining rebuilding and raising process.

"I've been through a lot of terrible things in my life," she said. "But I can't do this. I don't have the patience."

I tell her she shouldn't be living in the house. She has lung problems that are aggravated by the mold that is surely growing in her crawl space and underneath her floors.

"That's what the flood insurance guy told me," she said.

But she's not going anywhere, not until the contract with the buyer is signed on the dotted line. Then she will relocate to the Midwest, far away from the Toms River and the Jersey Shore, to be near her children.

I tell her that the electrical wires in the house were damaged by salt walter and are a fire hazard, even though the power and heat are on.

"Well," she says without hesitation. "If that happens, I'll dial 911 and jump out the window."

The "For Sale" sign in front of her home was the first to go up in our neighborhood when Sandy changed it forever. And it won't be the last.

A few houses down, another neighbor and her husband won't be back either. They had the best view of the river and the mouth of the Barnegat Bay. They were the lowest house on the street.

Their ranch home had three feet of water in it, besides the tree that fell on top of it. In insurance lexicon, it's a "total demo." The house has to be demolished and they still have a mortgage. Even if they qualified for the maximum that flood insurance and FEMA would pay, it still wouldn't be enough to build another house.

"The lot is for sale, if you know anybody with deep pockets," she told me.

Some in the neighborhood have already made their repairs, without realizing that if their homes are more than 50 percent damaged, they will have to comply with FEMA's new advisory base flood elevations.

We already know.

The engineer we hired to help raise the house has already told us our home will have to be jacked up three feet. He has to draw up the plans, then submit them to the township for a permit. A survey has to be done. We don't know how long it will be until the house raising company can get to us. I don't even want to ask about a timeline.

We still can't go home. The boiler and hot water heater were damaged by flood waters in the garage, even though they had been elevated on concrete blocks years ago. The outside gas meter has to replaced.

Most of the rewiring in the house has been done, but the electrical service has to be upgraded and a new breaker box put in. So there is no heat and very few lights.

The good news is we no longer have to tiptoe along the floor joists inside, like drunken ballerinas. The subfloors went in last week. The inside looks more like a house again, despite the Sheetrock sliced four feet up from the floor. Someday, hopefully sooner than later, we will have a kitchen and bathroom again.

But we are much better off than many. I took a sad ride through Good Luck Point the other day. A portion of Good Luck Drive was still flooded, from a rainstorm the day before.

Good Luck Point is almost a ghost town. Homes tilted and battered. Foundations with no houses on them. Piles of debris piled on the curb. No one waves as you go by, because few live there anymore.

But the owners of one uninhabitable ranch house in the street - its south side open to the bay and the elements - have not forgotten the season.

A wreath adorns the door, near the red "unsafe for human habitation" sign and a tiny Christmas tree sits on the front steps, slightly askew from the wind.

KC December 26, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Though it is sad that this 82 year old's life has been tempest tossed, she seems the type of person that will survive and thrive. She is closing a chapter, but will begin a new one seasoned with memories. To her I say, "Godspeed, let the force be with you."


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