A year ago, millions of New Jersey residents were left in the dark as strong winds conjured a storm surge that caused devastation along the coastline, ripping up boardwalks and destroying or damaging homes and businesses.
One of the towns still bearing the scars of Sandy — and some signs of healing — is Brick Township.
A portion of Brick Township, known as Cherry Quay, borders the northern part of Barnegat Bay. Floodwaters from Sandy swept down streets and into houses of that neighborhood.
Most of the Cherry Quay residents, including Mayor Steve Acropolis, are now back in their homes. But the mayor spent seven months living on his boat until his house was habitable again.
About 8,500 homes in Brick sustained water damage from Sandy. Even now, though, on a drive through the neighborhood, Acropolis said it’s hard to tell which homes still need work.
“You look at it. Maybe somebody would pull in the driveway and maybe stay there, but that house hasn’t been remediated,” he said. “There’s probably mold growing in that house. There may be mushrooms growing in that house. That house eventually will come down.”
Many residents are still displaced. The mayor pointed to one house where a couple is living out front in an RV.
“They had a contractor walk out on them, and now they have a contractor that¹s actually making some progress in their home,” he explained.
Acropolis estimated there are about 200 damaged homes in Brick still to be demolished. Some of them are rental units that were uninsured.
Digging into debt as they try to rebuild
Diane is one of the Brick residents whose Sandy-damaged home has already been torn down.
“Luckily, I have a brother-in-law’s house that is just fine so we’re rebuilding and, hopefully, a lot of the neighbors are rebuilding,” she said. “I did not have insurance, so we’re just going through the motions and doing it on our own.”
Her story is not unique.
Right down the street, Richard Weber is also wondering when he can rebuild. He lost everything inside his home and it was so severely damaged that it will have to be torn down.
Before that happens, though, he said he’s trying to salvage anything he can.
“I went underneath the home and I was cutting out all the copper tubing and the plumbing to get that out because from what I understand that goes for over $2.50 a pound,” Weber said. “Also we’re going around trying to get anything metal off the house, even the electrical wire.”
Weber and his wife are living in an apartment now in nearby Point Pleasant Beach. He’s applied for money to demolish the house and grants to rebuild but hasn’t gotten them yet.
“They’ve lost our records a number of times, about I think about three times, so we had to keep going over to Lakewood to fill out forms and get our information into the system.” he said. “Now, supposedly, we are eligible — but for what we don’t know yet.”
Businesses work to regain footing
It’s not just homeowners who are struggling. Businesses also are trying to recover.
The storm surge that pushed boats from the Manasquan River into the parking lot of the River Rock Restaurant and Marina Bar also flooded the building with 32 inches of water. It was closed for seven months.
Mark Soranno, one of the restaurant managers, said those seven months were tough on the staff.
“We had 70, 80 people working here that had to all go on unemployment. A lot of them didn’t work enough hours to get enough unemployment.
“So it was tough. That was tough to see. A lot of people were in trouble for quite a while, but most of them came back,” Soranno said. “So we’re happy about that.”
And with the return, business has picked up.
Live entertainment and televised sporting events are bringing back customers back after extensive renovations, according to Juan Santamaria, one of the restaurant owners.
“No grants from anybody. No loans. We have a partner who put in a lot of the money, his own money, into the business,” he said. “The insurance did work with us … we’re still waiting for some of the money. They seem to lose the check once in a while.”
Soranno said a great deal of anxiety centers on what rules FEMA will set to determine if they’ll have to elevate the place after all the renovations they’ve already made.
“Our fear is that if they do make us raise the building and we choose not to that insurance won’t cover us any more and that might put us out of business,” he said. “I mean that’s possible for a lot of businesses in the area.”
Residents fearful, stoic about the future
The structural damage is one thing, but Sandy has also left some emotional scars.
As it started to rain, a woman who preferred not to be identified invited a visitor into her home. Her eyes filling with tears, she stared at the plywood covering the floor of a room where she used to spend a lot of time. Every time it rains, she said, she fears staying in her home.
Other people in the neighborhood, including Joyce Maxwell, are just glad to be back.
“I think this storm is just something that happened maybe once every 50, every 75 years, and I don’t think we’ll have that damage again. They really took a lot of time building up the dunes down in Mantoloking where the ocean came through,” she said. “I don’t think this is going to happen again.”
There’s no way to know when that next storm is going to hit, but Brick Township’s mayor said the Shore is not ready for another big one while the Army Corp of Engineers has yet to complete a protective dune project along the entire coastline.
“If the projects were ready to go today, I believe that we would have the easements one way or the other. The problem is they’re not ready to go,” Mayor Acropolis said. “So if we were hit with another storm, another Category 3 superstorm, you’re going to see as much damage as you saw before and that’s a problem.”
Sandy will have a lasting effect on the character of the community, said Acropolis. Many small rental homes owned by those without insurance are being sold — and he’s expecting the new owners will tear them down and build much larger and expensive houses.
That, he said, will forever change the face of this predominately working-class town.