Storm Chronicles: Part Five - Gimme Shelter
Constant stress, confusion bring on relentless fatigue for many
"Oh, a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don't get some shelter
Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away" - from "Gimme Shelter" by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
It's been over three months since Superstorm Sandy roared into the Jersey coastline, changing landscapes and lives forever.
At first, some people were optimistic the mess could be turned around in a relatively short period of time. Now we know better. Now the sickening realization that things will never be the same has sunk in.
Township Council President James J. Byrnes had it right when he said at a recent council meeting that storm fatigue had set in. I've got it and so do too many other people.
I'm tired of acronyms like FEMA, ICC, ABFEs, SBA. I'm tired of all the things I've had to learn and still have to learn before this is all over. I'm tired of contractors who say they will be there, then don't show up.
Unlike some neighboring towns, Berkeley Township has been amazingly proactive since Sandy hit. Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and Byrnes quickly organized a number of informational sessions, so residents could learn what the acronyms mean, where to get help, how high they have to go or if they have to go up.
But you can't make flood insurance carriers settle flood claims. Meeting after meeting, someone gets up and talks about how they haven't even gotten an advance check yet.
We were lucky. The adjuster from our flood insurance carrier showed up less than two days after the storm. Some people are still waiting for theirs to come.
Don Little was a great comfort. Folksy and friendly, he squished through each room of the house, taking measurements, pictures and notes.
"I know you don't believe it now," he said, his voice thick with a North Carolina drawl, the Sheriff Andy Taylor of insurance adjusters. "But it's not always going to be like this. We will get this straightened out and you'll be back home."
Don made sure we got advance checks early, to hire people to rip out sodden carpets and insulation, tear up the floors, cut the Sheetrock and spray for mold. Because of his vigilance, we have already received our entire insurance claim.
But others haven't been so lucky. There are still some who can't get an adjuster out to their house, much less get an advance check. There are still some who haven't been able to treat their homes for mold.
And there are many, many people who don't know if they will ever go home again. Maybe they didn't hit the magic 50.1 percent number, which means their damaged homes are eligible for a $30,000 grant to raise their homes.
They didn't hit the magic number, so if they don't raise their homes, they will eventually be hit with horrendous flood insurance premiums. Already there are "For Sale" signs in many sections of Bayville, many more than you would traditionally see at this time of the year.
I said goodbye to Connie, my neighbor of more than two decades, last week. We sat in her living room with her son Nick and her daughter-in-law, who came to help her dismantle her home and move her to Missouri, so she will be close to them.
When it was time to leave, I thanked her for being a good neighbor. We both knew we will probably never see each other again. Connie was the first to leave our Bayville neighborhood. She won't be the last.
New buzzwords like "repopulation" have sprung up. But they don't mean much if people don't have homes they can go back to. They don't mean much if you live on a street where no one else does.
There's a yellow sign on Dorrance Drive in the horror show that is now Good Luck Point. It says "Children at Play." But there are no children in the streets of this tiny section of Bayville. Only a few people live in that lonely place now.
I know that sometime within the next few months, we will be able to move back into our house. The electrician is almost finished. Most of the house had to be rewired, outlets replaced and moved up higher, a new service installed.
The plumber will start next week. Right now there is no kitchen, no bathroom. No heat. The walls have to be taped, spackled and painted and new floors put down.
Then it's on to the biggie - raising the house. This is all temporary, I keep telling myself. But month after month of temporary wears you down. If I had known on Oct. 29, the day we fled the storm, we would still be out in February, I would have been hysterical. It's better I didn't know.
Footsteps echo on the subfloors in my house. There is no furniture, no belongings to muffle their sounds. That will change too.
But it's a long, long haul. And I want to go home now.