Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sandy Stories

By Devin Hartmann

Aftermath of Sandy in Brick, NJ  (photo: FEMA)

Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey around 8 pm on October 29, 2012. The east coast of the United States was ravaged alongside the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Greater Antilles and Canada. When Sandy was predicted to hit my hometown near the ocean, I never thought the damages would be as great as they turned out to be. I’d seen news reports of hurricanes, twisters, and tornadoes vastly altering the landscape and the way people had to rebuild their lives, but I had never experienced such damages firsthand.

I live in Belford, an unincorporated community of fewer than 2,000 people in Middletown Township in Monmouth County. Belford is right on the water, on Sandy Hook Bay. The community has a “wet” side and a “dry” side, the wet obviously being the side that receives more flooding during great storms or rainfall, the dry experiencing little to no flooding.

When Sandy hit, while we live on the “dry” side, my family decided to go to a family member’s house, not necessarily because we thought flooding would occur but rather for a means of comfort as to not be alone during a disaster. Having lived in Florida for a time, and having been through many hurricanes, my mother knew we would experience little damage to our house but knew it would be safer and more comforting spending the night at a relative’s house. The power went out almost immediately after the storm hit and sitting through the dark was not bad for me. I'd been lucky but would not be able to find out how my friends had fared until the next day.

Robert Spitzfaden, 21, was on the “wet” side of Belford when Sandy struck. The oldest of three, the only thoughts on his mind were of protecting his younger siblings, one in high-school, the other still in grade school, and his mother. The flooding came soon after and he knew the night would be unkind.

“We live on a small hill, and when I saw the water continuously rise I knew it would reach our house,” he recalled. Robert had to work fast saving anything that was on the first floor of the two-story house. The water comes up above his knees in the house before the family was evacuated, and as he treaded towards the boat, the water had risen well above his waist. The storm damages would leave the family of four without a residence for almost a year, unable to move back into the house until August 2013.

“I remember the day after; we had water damage everywhere, houses up and down the blocks needed to be raised a few feet in case this ever happened again,” he said. “It was long, but I was thankful everyone was ok and that we would be able to return to the house.” 

Mike E. McDonald, 21, was at his residence in Port Monmouth, a similar community adjacent to Belford, when Sandy hit. “My crawlspace underneath my house was filled up to right under my floorboards, and a power line was exploding into the street that was flooded, so it was like we had been trapped,” he said. Mike lives near the water, and while there was damage and the possibility of danger throughout the night, thankfully he and his family came out unscathed.

His father, Mike A. McDonald, fared worse, having to don a wet suit and rely on the support of a boogie board to survive. His house in Union Beach, a few yards from the water, flooded within minutes, he said in sharing his story with the Asbury Park Press. Mike had spent 10 years with the Royal Navy working as marine engineer before emigrating to the United States in 1993. During his Navy service, he made it through two hurricanes while on a ship at sea. They were nothing like Sandy, he said. While Mike survived the night, the same could not be said for his house in Union Beach, which lost most of his dining room.

The area had major damage. Walking through the streets, it felt eerie—houses ripped apart, furniture in the soaked streets, cars flooded, some even carried away, driftwood found miles inland, piers and trails vanished like they had never been there, sand from the nearby beaches covering the roads. The destruction was terrible, but we could rebuild.

The power was out for over a week, and many people went out and bought generators, and then the gas crisis started. Cars and generators both ran on gas, and while many people had taken off work to help with the repair effort, some couldn’t and needed fuel.  There were lines for gas that stretched for blocks, curving around corners, in the hopes that gas would be available. Leaving  around five in the morning to fill up the family car with my mother, we had to wait well past sunrise just to reach the gas station.

While it was a tragic moment in the New Jersey history books, the community came together like never before. Within three days, shelters were set up for those that had lost everything and had nowhere to go; families could still eat a meal thanks to those that were more fortunate and could donate or lend a helping hand; neighbors who had generators put up signs offering outlets to charge cell phones. 

New Jersey citizens have become more vocal of their disapproval of how the recovery effort was handled, many stating that the Christie Administration has been too slow to help the people affected by the storm.  Recently, it was reported that out of the $1.8 billion federal aid money, only about a quarter of it has reached the hands of the affected residents.

According to Jared Keever of, testimony from a hearing convened by New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez revealed racial discrepancies in the application process for grant money. Applications coming from African-Americans to rebuild their homes were rejected at a rate of 2.5 times that of whites. Latinos were rejected 1.5 times more than whites. An analysis by the Fair Share Housing Center showed that 80 percent of those who were rejected turned out to be eligible.

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Devin Hartmann is a Junior at Ramapo College majoring in Communications with a concentration in Journalism.  “I have taken many writing courses here and while I have enjoyed them all, Environmental Writing has meant the most to me. I was first introduced to the importance of the environment and its protection during my senior year in high school and knew I wanted to help in any way I could. I hope to one day bring more stories to the public of environmental protection and bring out the truth behind what harms our environment and what type of effect it will have on us.”

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