Almost two and a half months after Hurricane Sandy, victims around the Tri-State area are still struggling to recover -- in the Rockaways, on Staten Island, and in Weehawken. In the “Shades” section of town and on the waterfront, the residents at least benefited from a spirited municipal response and the assistance of their less-affected neighbors.
But last week, when the House of Representatives failed to vote on $60 billion in relief aid because Speaker John Boehner walked off the chamber floor, they felt nothing but outrage.
“They shouldn’t have turned their backs on the people,” said Shades resident Maryann Radetich.
Afterwards, the House voted to release $10 billion in aid following widespread criticism, but the pervading opinion among victims was that it was too little, too late.
“I blame Boehner,” said Shades resident Bruce Rosso. “I don’t know how these people got voted in.”
While Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner estimated the cost of public damage from the storm to be around $2.5 million, it is nearly impossible at this point to ballpark how much damage was done to private homes and apartments. The township set up a hotline to assist residents in the process of applying for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and from their insurance companies, but some residents are still finding it difficult.
“I guess [Congress]didn’t see the seven feet of water in my basement.” - Trista Nehrich
Some residents have had success with FEMA, Radetich amongst them.
“FEMA came to my rescue, but so many people have lost so much and haven’t been able to get any money,” she said.
Residents are not quick to blame the agency as quickly as they are willing to demonize their insurance company. One resident, Tracy Vanrecan, who recently remodeled her whole house before it was destroyed by Sandy, said that even though she had flood insurance, her assessor has been less than forthcoming with relief funds.
“They said they’ll pay, I just don’t know when,” she said. “They said it was at their leisure. I told them I had no floors, and the guy on the phone said to me, ‘Yeah, so?’”
And when Vanrecan says she has no floors, she means it. While some residents had to rip up wood flooring panels which were installed over a concrete subfloor, Vanrecan was forced to rip up everything. She can only walk through her house along a two-foot-wide plank board.
“I think members of Congress should be forced to live in our houses for a few days,” she said. “If you speak with any of them, tell them I’ve got a spare key.”
Down the street, Trista Nehrich lamented the lack of government aid as she struggled to move car seats out of her car while on one leg. She injured her other foot in the storm, and it’s now in a cast.
“I guess they didn’t see the seven feet of water in my basement,” she said.
A bright spot for the neighborhood has been the resurgence of St. Lawrence Church, which sits at the epicenter of the Shades and is the township’s main Catholic parish. Under the guidance of general contractor Duilio Poggi, the church has improved dramatically since the storm -- albeit out of pocket.
“It’s sad, it really is,” said Poggi. “But the repairs are coming along.”
The church is clean, its broken pews removed and its heaters once again warming the interior. An organ was donated to replace the one destroyed by Sandy, and folding chairs were set up to replace the pews. The heat was fixed on Christmas Eve, just in time to hold mass.
“People were saying how happy they were to come home,” said Father James Whelan, the parish priest. “We even had a ‘Welcome home’ sign. It was very special.”
Whelan did not wish to comment on whether the church had any success obtaining FEMA aid.
Praise for Christie
Residents praised Christie and other local politicians for the stark criticism of Speaker Boehner and House Republicans after they failed to vote on the bill.
“I saw the governor on television,” said Anna Bradley, “and he told them, ‘Shame on you,’ and he was right. Shame on them.”
Christie’s most recent approval rating came in at 78 percent, according to a Kean University/N.J. Speaks poll.
U.S. Representative Albio Sires (NJ - 8th Dist.) echoed Christie’s criticisms in a press release.
“The victims of Sandy have already waited over two months to receive the necessary aid from the government to help them rebuild and recover,” Sires said. “This lack of sensitivity to our region and victims of the storm shown by the Republican leadership is unprecedented.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org