Sandy Left-Behinds Brace for Second Year With Relief Elusive

By and | October 25, 2013

For more than a half-century, Whitey’s Landing on New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay has served boaters pulling up for engine repairs or clams from the bait freezer. This season, only one-third of its 30 moorings were leased, and fuel sales were down as much as 80 percent from years past.

Co-owner Deb Thompson, 74, dreams of retiring — provided anyone would want to buy docks cut off from the water by a sandbar.

One year after Hurricane Sandy devastated coastal New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, the broad signs of recovery are undeniable. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 182,000 individual and household applications for assistance in the three states, totaling $1.4 billion. It has made $3.1 billion available to repair roads, bridges and other publicly owned property after one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. President Barack Obama signed a bill allocating $50.5 billion in disaster aid.

Like Thompson, thousands of residents and businesses are awaiting relief. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told a Little Ferry audience on Oct. 22 only that “needs will be addressed.” His counterpart in New York, Andrew Cuomo, said affected residents will emerge stronger.

‘Sounds Incongruous’

“When you look back at the year, I really do believe that we’re going to be better for it,” Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, told reporters yesterday in Albany. “I think if you asked people individually, it sounds incongruous, but those communities will be the better for it. There’s a cohesion among them, there’s a physical improvement in rebuilding.”

The slow pace of aid distribution forced 42 Shore towns, from the time Sandy struck Oct. 29 through August, to sell almost $400 million of short-term debt, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Their one-year interest rates were close to the highest since 2011. For a similar period in 2011-2012, Shore towns issued $225 million.

In New York, as much as one-fifth of the 33,500 people living in Long Beach, the state’s second-wealthiest city by median income, left and haven’t returned. Volunteers who gutted 850 homes in Ortley Beach, New Jersey, fret about protective dunes yet to be rebuilt. Connecticut opened four centers today where homeowners may apply for $30 million in aid.

Too Late

About $700 million of aid in New York will go toward building flood walls, levies and improving electrical systems at two Long Island water-sewage treatment plants that serve more than 620,000 residents. The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in Nassau County, the larger of the two, was swamped by more than 9 feet of water during Sandy, County Executive Ed Mangano said on a conference call today with Cuomo.

Kathy Luethold, 62, and her husband, Ray Gorman, 60, are without a furnace in Bayville, New Jersey. Gorman, retired on disability after a work accident crushed his cervical spine 10 years ago, is fielding estimates from ventilation contractors, though he doesn’t know how much he can pay. They delayed major work on their home on Barnegat Bay following instructions from FEMA, only to learn from neighbors on Oct. 16 they had missed the cut for grants.

“To find out from neighbors that the programs are closed, and it’s over and it’s done, and we were never notified?” said Gorman, seated in a living room with donated furniture. “And winter’s around the corner? We don’t have any heat.”

Loan Officer

Next door at Whitey’s Landing, Thompson recounted her own fruitless calls to local, state and federal agencies to dredge the storm-built sandbar, where boaters risk running aground or worse, trashing their drives.

Beyond the sand build-up, Thompson and her husband, Larry, bear expenses related to debris removal, abandoned craft, equipment replacement and repairs to the business his family started in 1960. On a deadline to agree to a lien stipulation for $125,000 in disaster borrowing, Thompson said she scuttled months of negotiations with a two-word answer to the federal loan officer: “Shove it.”

“We don’t have a mortgage — this is free and clear,” Thompson said in an interview Oct. 17. “I’m not going to be tied to them on my deed for another 30 years.”

‘Nothing Left’

This season, Whitey’s filled its 2,000-gallon (7,576-liter) boating-fuel tank just once, rather than the typical four or five times. Next year may spell ruin.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing left. We’ve just drained everything. My husband lost 50 years of his life to this place.”

Christie, a 51-year-old Republican whose post-Sandy performance drove his record approval in public-opinion polls, is heading to the Nov. 5 election with an almost 30-point lead over his opponent, Democrat Barbara Buono, a state senator from Metuchen.

Democrats, particularly Buono, have said the Christie administration hasn’t been responsive enough to the needs of Sandy survivors. Buono’s campaign has run Web videos profiling residents still recovering.

The legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, held four hearings on Sandy recovery efforts, including one this week in Toms River.

“The message from the testimony we have received is clear,” Assembly member Grace Spencer, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Sandy rebuilding is slow, almost at a standstill for many across the state.”

Not Forgotten

Christie says that no one said everything would be rebuilt in one year. In Little Ferry this week, he pledged to allocate $57 million for homeowner expenses such as mortgage payments, utilities and replacement furniture.

“I said right from the beginning this was an 18-to-24- month project, and it’s proven to be right,” he said.

The delays, he said, were due to the storm’s severity and bureaucracy. Sandy damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes in New Jersey, according to Christie’s office.

“People have ongoing needs that need to be addressed and that will be addressed,” he said. “We’re going to make sure that that happens because the folks who suffered the most are not going to be forgotten — not by me, at least. I can guarantee you that.”

Home Buyouts

Along New Jersey’s 126-mile (203-kilometer) Atlantic coast, the hardest-hit neighborhoods are a hodgepodge: vinyl-sided Cape Cods and ranches raised to flood-zone standards, lopsided cottages awaiting demolition, restored faux Victorians alongside empty lots.

“We’re getting a lot of complaints: ‘My home needs work and I don’t have money and I’m not happy about it,'” Debbi Winogracki, a spokeswoman for Toms River, a township with a section on the hardest-hit barrier island, said by telephone on Oct. 9.

In July, Christie’s administration began making its first post-Sandy buyout offers to homeowners along the Raritan Bay as part of a $300 million program funded with federal money. Two purchases have been completed and dozens more are expected in the next few months, Christie’s office said in a statement today.

On Oct. 16, the Facebook Inc. page for the volunteer group Weekday Warriors sought helpers to place a tarp at an Ortley Beach home where a new roof leaked rainwater. Eight days earlier, the whole state was under watch for a rare tornado — it touched down in Paramus, 90 miles north, where it damaged trees — and the weather bulletin had spooked Joan DeLucia, the group’s founder.

Falling Plaster

“They still have not fixed the dunes,” DeLucia, 54, a Toms River resident, said by telephone. “It’s hurricane season. This should have been done in August.”

For Sarah Schreder, 41, August was the month when she grew fed up with falling plaster, the result of roof damage, and a lack of air conditioning and heating at her home in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.

“It was damp in the summer, and in the winter it was cold,” Schreder said by telephone. “I had to tell my husband I will not live there one more winter. I had to draw a line.”

They’re leasing in another part of Greenwich, paying rent atop their mortgage, as they apply for federal funding to raise their residence above flood levels. Another homeowner on her Old Greenwich street, his mechanical system destroyed, is sticking it out with a fireplace for heat.

‘In Hell’

“We’re in hell right now,” said 47-year-old Louis Csak, an engineer. “I can’t emotionally go through another flood.”

In Long Beach, on a barrier spit off Long Island’s southern shore, an advertising campaign featured actor and comedian Billy Crystal urged tourists to visit “my hometown.” The boardwalk, with attractions from food carts to a trapeze school, saw one of its best seasons ever, according to city council President Scott Mandel.

Even so, federal and state agencies and private insurance companies have been slow to hand out funds and as many as 7,000 residents haven’t come back, Mandel said.

“We’re disappointed that we haven’t been able to bring everyone home,” Mandel said by phone. “This is our Long Beach family, and it’s not the same without them.”

West of Long Beach, on New York City’s Staten Island, 43- year-old Aiman Youssef gives Midland Beach neighbors donated food, baby supplies and clothes in a tent where his house and home-based electronics business once stood.

Youssef had missed an insurance payment and was denied coverage when Sandy struck, and money from the state and FEMA hasn’t been enough to rebuild. When he almost lost funding this year for the hotel room he calls home, a case manager at the Jewish Community Center stepped in.

He operates the tent as part of a religious commitment to help others because the area still needs food, money and volunteers.

“We still have homes with mold, and people have left and they’re not coming back,” said Youssef, a native of Syria who has called Midland Beach home for 20 years. “It looks to me like we’re in a Third World country.”

With assistance from Annie Linskey in Boston. Editors: Mark Schoifet, Stacie Sherman

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